IMTS 2016: It's a numbers game

IMTS 2016 was held at the McCormick Place Convention Center near downtown Chicago and ended Saturday, September 17th.

Ron Head Shot Lia 2018 Best

The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) was held at the McCormick Place Convention Center near downtown Chicago and ended Saturday, September 17th. The show drew around 120,000 visitors in total. As I pointed out in my last blog, in years past, the organizers actually pursued vendors associated with laser processing technology, but a few years ago, they decided to try to push most of this to Fabtech and they do not have a laser pavilion per se on the floor. Nevertheless, there was a lot of laser-related activity occurring if one knows where to look.

Indeed, the show is so big that it is hard—particularly for a first-time visitor—to know where to look, especially for laser micromachining. With 120,000 visitors, even if only 10% of the visitors are there pursuing laser manufacturing applications, that is still a lot of potential customers—more than the total attendance at many smaller shows.

How about laser micromachining and, in particular, ultrafast lasers? Again, it is a numbers game—if only 1% of the visitors have interests aligned with laser micromachining, that still means there are 1200 people at the show who are potential customers. The real trick is to know where to look for some of these vendors (or customers, depending on which side of the aisle you are on). Therefore, the show should not be missed, if possible—and the hardest thing can be finding a hotel room in town for less than $500 per night, unless you make arrangements months in advance.

As has been the case for the last few years, additive manufacturing, using both laser (EOS, for example) and non-laser technologies, took center stage—literally! The biggest displays were right out front in most of the halls, with vehicles like Army jeeps, Shelby Cobras, smart cars, bicycles, etc. shown. The interesting thing is that when these first appeared at shows a few years ago, only certain components like the bodies were actually 3D-printed—but now, the entire vehicle can be 3D-printed! It is still difficult to make money in the 3D space, but the technology is advancing and when speeds and costs are in line with manufacturing needs, the market will surely grow.

One topic I found quite interesting was that of mold structuring with femtosecond lasers. There were a number of companies (mostly large companies) with femtosecond lasers in the booth (for this application and a few others), but they were in general not the main attractions at these large booths. A very interesting company is Microlution, a Chicago-based company that makes very high-end five-axis femtosecond lasers using the Arges processing head and in-house-built motion control components for 1µm accuracy in all directions. In fact, only a few months ago they were purchased by GF, a large Swiss firm that already had a large presence in the laser processing field, but decided to expand by acquisition. These textures are used for release, hydrophobic and hydrophilic applications, and a few more. On display at various places were machines with the ability to texture things from very small molds for medical device fabrication to large formats with the ability to process a car dashboard.

It will be two more years before another IMTS is held, but in that time this fast-moving field will have surely evolved. In the meantime, Fabtech is coming up in November and it is a much smaller venue, but will feature laser processing front and center.

I am always interested in hearing your thoughts concerning laser micromachining, the laser industry, comments on entrepreneurial endeavors, etc. AND … we are always looking for fresh, publishable material. Please feel free to contact me at rschaeffer@photomachining.com.

More in Ron's Report