Catching The Next Great Wave

Catching The Next Great Wave

Faced with a global economic recession, the machine tool industry heads to Milan for EMO trade show armed with new technology and ready for a comeback.

Strange, how perspective can turn on its head in one short year. Think back to last September, when the machining world descended on Chicago for The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), and the dominant talk of the industry was a looming presidential election.

Sure, some fretted about the economy. But no one sensed the financial thunderhead that would soon envelope the machine tool industry and every other global-market sector.

Fast forward one calendar year, as the biennial pan-European international machine tool show, EMO, set to take place October 5-10 at the Fiera Milano fairground, and the machining world is a vastly different place. By one high-ranking machine tool executive's estimate, business is down 70% from a year ago.

"We hope that EMO marks the beginning of looking forward after having been through an unprecedentedly difficult period for our industry," says Peter Eelman, vice president of exhibitions and communications for The Association of Manufacturing Technology (AMT). "This is an unusual show. It hasn't been held in Italy in six years and I think it's the first time anyone has had to run an event in these kind of challenging times."

Just over 1,300 companies have signed up as exhibitors at machine tools trade show EMO this year.

Organized by the Association of Italian Manufacturers of Machine Tools and sponsored by the Committee for European Cooperation of the Machine Tool Industries, EMO is a powerful draw in the industry, not just from the European sector, but internationally. More than 165,000 visitors attended the show in 2007.

What is harder to discern is what to expect this time around. Several high-ranking industry executives interviewed for this article project attendance to dip. As of press time, just over 1,300 companies have signed on for exhibits at EMO. But that number is down significantly from the 2,118 booths that appeared at the show two years ago, when it was held in
Hannover, Germany.

"We pulled out of EMO," says Don Lane, president of Makino USA. "All of us are looking at where to spend money under the current circumstances and I think there are a lot of people trying a lot of different alternatives. We're trying to get closer to customers on a more regular basis and spending money in smaller, more focused seminars."

This year's show, while undoubtedly cast before a backdrop of a global economic recession, also serves as an opportunity for the machine tool industry to introduce products, technologies and innovations that they hope will shake up the machining market.

In With the New

One dominant trend underlying hundreds of new technologies to be unveiled at EMO is an emphasis on the blending of multiple operations into smaller, more compact work stations.

Mori Seiki's Greg Hyatt, the vice president of engineering and chief technical officer for the machine tool giant, points out that unlike IMTS in 2008, which saw the unveiling of MTConnect, the open communication protocol standard for interconnectability between machines, there is no single blockbuster technology that awaits at EMO.

Instead, he says, there is a greater sense of mystery this year.

"Because of the state of the economy, I think many people don't know whether to expect the cutting tool manufacturers and machine tool builders to have reduced their development activities and to be showing less than usual or to expect them to have done more development than usual because they're not distracted so much by short-term production requirements," says Hyatt.

For years, machine tool technology has sought to combine the skills of several machines into a single operating unit. A handful of companies will be showcasing new machine tools that are both versatile and getting smaller and smaller.

Mori Seiki, for instance, will be premiering the NT1000, a compact high-precision integrated mill turn center. Designed for small and complex workpieces, the NT1000 is a standard five-axis machining center, but one of the rotary axes is capable of high speed rotation, so it can perform lathe operations as well.

"We've taken the traditional configuration of mill turn machines and shrunk them smaller than we ever have before for efficiency both in terms of energy consumption and floor space utilization," says Hyatt. "We're getting to the point where we can incorporate some of the lathe operations in some of our horizontal machining centers, and we're showing more grinding in our machines."

DMG, meanwhile, will premier seven new workpieces. Among them, the Ultrasonic 10, which can machine a wide range of materials including soft, hard and advanced materials, while small enough to fit through any standard door for installation.

As the economy begins to show glimmers of hope for manufacturing, and factories begin producing again, restarting operations will put a heavy emphasis on new equipment.

"I think a big concern is going to be finding the right types of equipment to match what could be a fairly rapid ramp-up," says Paul Warndorf, vice president, technology, AMT. "If you've had plants shut down, it's not always that easy to turn the key, put the lights on and start pumping out product.

"There's going to be some emphasis on equipment that could be quickly put into service," he says. "Multi-tasking equipment will continue to be coming to the fore because Europe, like America, doesn't have enough skilled workers. So you have to have innovation take their place."

A Different Flavor

EMO ranks, along with IMTS and JIMTOF in Japan, as one of the three largest machine tool exhibitions in the world. As such, it offers a uniquely European flavor of conducting its business. Whereas booths at IMTS are lavish in the number of machine tools being displayed (Mazak, for instance, exhibited a staggering 20 machine tools last year in Chicago), EMO's booths are designed to emphasize sociability. Most exhibits feature machine tools, along with a living-room atmosphere, replete with sandwiches, finger food, espresso machines and any number of alcoholic beverages to partake.

"It's a very different sales process in Europe," says AMT's Eelman. "It's all about customer relations and following it up with the meeting several weeks later back at the factory. As a visitor, you're supposed to take it all in and see who you're comfortable with. In the United States, with IMTS, it's more going knuckles-to-knuckles on machinery."

That cultural difference will only be further emphasized by the slower economy, warns Mark Logan, vice president of business development and marketing for MAG Americas.

"Since it's in Milan and the realities of the economic situation, I'd expect most exhibitors will have scaled back the size of their booths and the size of the machines that they take, considering the cost of transport and installation," says Logan. "But the emphasis on hospitality is always there. The reason is to facilitate a closeness and quality face time and make the customer feel comfortable in a comfortable environment."

Since its first show in 1975, EMO traditionally has been held alternately in Hannover, Paris, and Milan. Paris was ultimately cut from the schedule, as the prominence of the Italian machine tool industry grew.

Currently, Japan and Germany are first and second in producing equipment, according to the 2009 World Machine Tool Output and Consumption Survey, while Italy is in fourth position, behind China, which has made dramatic gains in its technology.

This year's location in Milan will offer greater access to the southern European manufacturing market, which is concentrated in southern Italy, across southern Germany, and in Spain.

But Miron Stefan of the Italian Trade Commission says EMO is not a regionally based show. It is truly emblematic of the machining world in Europe and offers the broader world a chance to see the latest in the industry.

"This is a show where anybody that means anything [in the industry] will be there," says Stefan. "From Italy, practically everybody will be there. They feel this is an obligation to their industry and country. And in Europe, the countries are small. They know each other well. They're going to come here to see innovation and technology. That's what this show is about."

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