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Mark Hembree


Taking in the Modern Marvels of IMTS 2022

Amazing technology, even greater potential

Published: Thursday, October 13, 2022 - 11:03

Many trade shows have disappeared or diminished in recent decades—but not the International Manufacturing Technology Show, a biannual event held every even-numbered year in Chicago, this year from Sept. 12–17. In its 33rd year, IMTS was of sufficient scope to take up nearly half of McCormick Place—with its 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space, the largest convention center in North America.

IMTS 2022 needed the room for its 86,307 registrants, 1,816 exhibitors, and more than 1,600 booths. The show occupied 1.2 million square feet of floor space, making a solid case for IMTS as one of the biggest trade conventions in the world.

It was a triumphant return to viability for the show after the world pandemic seemed to threaten its very existence.

Douglas K. Woods, president of AMT (the Association for Manufacturing & Technology, which owns and produces IMTS), says, “While the excitement and electricity were clearly evident in every aisle of the show, what was most gratifying for the industry and the country was the scope of commerce taking place as visitors sought out, and found, key technologies and productivity solutions to move their businesses forward.”

Peter R. Eelman, chief experience officer at AMT, adds, “At IMTS 2022, the manufacturing community achieved something that hasn’t been done since World War II—it brought our industry back together after a worldwide disruption. We proved our resiliency, but we achieved much more.”

Front and center in many exhibits were demonstrations of various aspects of additive manufacturing: 3D printing, sure, but so much more in the cutting-edge examples of scanning, measuring, gauging, data extraction, CNC, and myriad other production applications.

And there were robots. Lots of robots. And cobots. And automated machining centers, welding systems, tooling centers, work-holding pallets, inspection systems, and more, along with autonomous vehicles able to independently traverse shop floors and tend machinery.

“Apparently, you don’t have to have any welding experience,” says Christopher Digangi, general manager and CNC manager at West Palm Machining and Welding in West Palm Beach, Florida, after a demonstration of Trumpf’s Arc Weld 1000 MIG welding cell equipped with a universal robot.

But rather than dreaming of replacing human workers, considerable attention was given to educating them. The Smartforce Student Summit at IMTS 2022 presented 24,000 square feet of interactive experiences, its largest floorplan to date, with technology and dozens of education-to-career pathways on display.

“For the younger students who attended the summit, we believe that we expanded on the IMTS ‘Find Me’ campaign as we showed these students how they could find themselves and provide them choices in the education-to-career pathway that they might not have considered,” says Greg Jones, AMT vice president of Smartforce Development. “Our focus is always on presenting our industry’s vision of the manufacturing technology classroom of the future. This year, we added Smartforce Careers Connections, a kind of digital career fair that allowed college students who are nearing graduation to connect to hundreds of open jobs at manufacturing technology companies.”

Being completely new to the QA/QC industry myself, I was hard-put for an entry point to understanding, and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of technology displayed. Since working for Quality Digest, I’ve been reading up on what these companies do, carefully editing their news to preserve their nouns and learn their business. But as a witness, I might as well have been gazing eastward from McCormick Place and trying to sum up Lake Michigan.

What I did take away was a vague yet inspiring epiphany. Although partial comprehension can sometimes be more dangerous than complete ignorance, seeing the process of additive manufacturing enabled me to reason through it enough to entertain its possibilities. “OK,” I thought, “if you can scan that part with lasers, and the system builds and saves a 3D model on the spot, you can file it, edit it, use a CNC to make it...” and so forth. From there, the implications of such technology spread and branch out on the trellis of industry, making unprecedented connections and, possibly, permanently and completely changing many enterprises.

Need measurements? A Keyence Optical Comparator can take care of that within seconds.

In my experience, I would compare it to the first time (in the 1990s) I saw and came to understand digital music editing. Seeing the Pro Tools audio program, I realized you could copy, cut, paste, and replace notes wherever you wanted. The ramifications stretched far beyond the control room. Being able to repair a recorded passage on the spot, you didn’t have to call the musician back into the studio. And if that musician was a high-buck, hired gun who had already flown home, that was a very big deal—a realization that immediately stemmed from seeing and only slightly understanding the editing software.

As I consider what I saw at IMTS, I like to think of AMT’s Smartforce and those students who may have been inspired or achieved that pivotal moment of understanding. Someday, no doubt, at least one of them will change the world forever.

For more about IMTS 2022, read the official press release and visit the Association for Manufacturing & Technology.


About The Author

Mark Hembree’s picture

Mark Hembree

A former professional musician and longtime editor and writer, Mark Hembree has been a staff writer for marketing companies in the music and automotive industries, and a magazine editor covering the scale model industry for hobby and B2B publications. He’s also written a book about his music days, On the Bus With Bill Monroe: My Five-Year Ride With the Father of Blue Grass (University of Illinois Press, 2022). Mark is an associate editor with Quality Digest.