Fall trade show wrap-up

03 November 2008

Susan Mucha

Midwest in the Fall! The autumn trade show scene in the USA has become slightly confused - Susan Mucha visited them all and this is her verdict.

I spent the end of September and the beginning of October in the Chicago area speaking at the IPC Midwest show in Schaumberg. While there, I also attended the MDM Midwest Show which was running concurrently in Rosemont.

This is the second year of split shows. For those of you not familiar with the state of US electronics shows, a couple of years ago Canon Communications purchased some of Reed Exhibitions’ US shows. One of them was the Assembly Expo show held every September at the Rosemont Convention Center. SMTA used to host the SMTA International conference concurrently with the Assembly Expo show, but after the purchase by Canon, they decided not to continue. They spun off SMTA International into a separate show and conference and have held it in Florida for the last two years. Canon put a Medical Design and Manufacturing (MDM) show and conference into the Assembly Expo grouping of shows, but many electronic equipment manufacturers felt the electronics draw was still missing, so they asked IPC to put together a Chicago-based show to address that element. Thus, in 2007, IPC Midwest was born.

The challenge has been the fact that the electronics exhibiting and attendee base now is split between three shows every fall. In 2007, SMTA International was held in October in Orlando and did pretty well. This year, the best show space was only available in August and attendance was down significantly. It was further impacted by a tropical storm that seemed determined to stay over central Florida for the entire length of the show. August in Florida seems a bad combination for any electronics show. Next year the show moves to Southern California. That may change attendance dynamics significantly.

IPC Midwest is fulfilling its mission as an electronically-focused equipment show. This year’s exhibit included the A-Line, a demonstration line organized by the Morey Corporation which included equipment from a variety of equipment manufacturers including Mydata and Juki. One machine generating some buzz was the Mydata MY500 jet printer, which was introduced in the US at the beginning of the year. This printer eliminates the need for stencils by dispensing solder paste or epoxy through an auger that is spring fed by a piezo mechanism. It dispenses in very uniform patterns of .3mm dots. This is a good printer for prototype or high mix applications. The floor model had been purchased by a prototype house, Screaming Circuits, based in Canby, OR.

IPC put on a top-notch technical conference, although attendance is far less than that drawn by IPC’s APEX show earlier this year in Las Vegas.

The surprise for me was the MDM Midwest show. I visited a client who was exhibiting there. I drove over the morning of the last day of the show, which is traditionally the lowest attendance day for most US shows. I waited in line for 20 minutes just to get into the convention center parking garage. MDM Midwest and its concurrent cluster of shows drew a lot of traffic this year. The show uses about four exhibit halls in the Rosemont Convention Center, which does spread out the traffic nicely on the show floor. There were a number of electronics manufacturing services (EMS) companies exhibiting at MDM Midwest this year. This may be shaping up to be the best show for EMS companies to exhibit at in the Midwest.

My only disappointment is the fact that both IPC and SMTA put on far better technical conferences for the electronic manufacturing community than Canon does, and both of those fall shows are under-attended as standalone entities. APEX has proven that IPC can produce a strong show and conference, but the multitude of choices in the fall are making it much harder for either IPC or SMTA to deliver as strong a show in the last half of the year.

The economy was a topic on the show floor. As mentioned earlier, “sold” signs were still decorating equipment on the show floor, but there is no question that companies are watching budgets carefully. In terms of electronics manufacturing, there isn’t a uniform downturn, but there are companies seeing some slowness in the third and fourth quarters. At the same time, there is some business moving back to the US from China as a result of the double whammy of increased logistics costs and wage inflation.

Lowering energy prices are good news for US manufacturers. One of the trends earlier this year was a move to ten hour days in four-day workweeks in some areas to help employees cut back on gas use. The financial meltdown was occurring during the show, so it was a topic of conversation. There didn’t seem to be a lot of industry concern about availability of credit, but there was a lot of individual concern about losses in stocks and 401K plans (a US retirement savings plan) and the impact that could have on retirement. Right now most people are in a ‘wait and see’ mode, both in terms of business prospects and in seeing where the economy as a whole is likely to head.

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