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Welcome to the World of Tomorrow…Today

March 20, 2019
The 1939 World's Fair represented the best of manufacturing and showed how we could build a better future. We hope to carry on that spirit with the Manufacturing & Technology Expo coming to Pittsburgh April 1-3.

Eighty years ago, the 1939 New York World's Fair opened with the goal to manifest "The World of Tomorrow" smack dab in Flushing Meadows, Queens. And it worked. Millions of technologists, manufacturers, vendors, futurists and regular folks all giddily converged on the site to brush up against the wonders of human innovation and taste the promise of the coming decades. Spread out across internationally themed pavilions full of art deco domes and spires, the concept cars, prototypes and even a smoking robot, all inspired visitors to be their best selves.

It was a place that awestruck royalty and commoner alike. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt even eschewed the radio, the medium of his fireside chats, to address visitors via a revolutionary contraption made by RCA called the television.

This was the first American broadcast and FDR hoped that the friendly gathering of nations here and sharing of ideas would carry over to the geopolitical domain.

It did not.

Four months later, destruction ruled the day. The world was at war and the wonders of technology and industry would be used to fulfill the worst parts of our dark, primitive impulses: to kill and conquer.

That brings us to today. There is so much uncertainty in the world at large, and it feels like we're going backwards a lot if the time, regressing to tribal brutes who use the digital technology hinted at in 1939 to cudgel each other for differing over ideology. It's depressing for sure.

But as in 1939, they found beacons of hope. And we don’t have it nearly as rough. That generation had just come out of the actual Great Depression and were heading towards a real world war, but still had optimism about a utopian World of Tomorrow. It seems for the most part we've lost that optimism and sense of wonder about what manufacturing technology can do to make the world better, despite it making the world better every day. That's even more depressing.

The manufacturing sector continues to move forward, with positive job growth not seen in 79 years, building up the type of future fantasized at the World's Fair. We don’t have smoking robots, but we do have ones that perform lung surgery. And so much more. The Industrial Internet of Things. Collaborative robots. Wearables. Augmented reality. These are all drivers making human workers safer and stronger, more productive and efficient.

And we write about these technologies daily and how they impact industries and economies, but with this stuff, you have to see to believe. And we all need to believe, to have faith in the future. That was our intent as we created the expo hall programming at Manufacturing & Technology 2019, an IndustryWeek event, which aims to give visitors the clearest look of the tools available today that will build that world of tomorrow. The David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh is nowhere near as ornately grandiose as the 1939 World's Fair, but the entire city is imbued with that innovative, hard-nosed spirit, from the new students in Carnegie Mellon labs to the denizens of steel mill retirees. That's what matters and that's the inspiration we tried to capture in our expo hall. Even if we turn you on to one new piece of society-shaking tech, presented on three different stages and at 100 or so exhibitor booths, we'll consider it a success.

You can check out the schedule for exact times and all the events, but here's the broad strokes:

  • The expo will be open for about 16 hours and features about 30 different demos and presentations
  • It's FREE to enter. Registration is required online or at show.
  • We don’t have FDR, but Pittsburgh's mayor Bill Peduto is part of our welcome wagon, which also includes ARM Institute CEO Byron Clayton discussing the city's current tech climate, while local businessman and historian Bill Flanagan recounts the Steel City's industrial past.
  • On April 2, Rebecca Liebert, Senior Vice President of Automotive Coatings, PPG, will address Giant Leaps: Leading in a Time of Transformation -- a keynote open to all.
  • On April 3, one of manufacturing most interesting men (and certainly one of the most resilient), Titan Gilroy, will share his secrets to machining aerospace parts. His keynote on the skills gap is open to conference attendees and expo pass holders, and a deep dive into leveraging machine data into a competitive advantage is also open to all.
  • You will be an expert on the connected worker in manufacturing when you leave. We start off with the first manufacturing-focused industrial wearable fashion show and later have primers on augmented reality from leading AR developer PTC, how people fit into the IIoT strategy from Parsable. On the hardware side, we have overview on wearable computers by RealWear CEO Andy Lowery, which manufacturers the HMT-1, as well as real-time maintenance and assembly demos featuring the Microsoft HoloLens, Glass Enterprise Edition and more.
  • Industry 4.0 will be covered on every level, from small scale changes like no-code apps for factory floor workers to sweeping digital transformation strategies enacted by manufacturing giants to stay out of pilot purgatory.
  • Local autonomous material handling vehicle maker Seegrid will have a self-driving pallet truck whirling around the floor all week, and later explain how advanced robot visioning is changing safety and efficiency on the plant floor.
  • You will believe children are our future when you see the next generation of roboticists. The Girls of Steel Robotics Club will build a robot on site (and you can help), while the National Robotics League will be showing off its student-made fighting robots destructive capabilities (while enclosed in a glass arena).
  • One of the world's biggest aluminum producers just got hit by a cyberattack, and without trying to sound alarmist, we all need to know how these attacks happen. You can learn the basics of how these breaches work from UL's top cybersecurity expert.
  • Exoskeletons come in many shapes, sizes and abilities. See (and maybe try on) the passive Levitate Technologies AIRFRAME and learn how it can reduce the risk of crippling back injuries, then get an exclusive session about Sarcos Robotics' Guardian XO force-multiplying exosuit. The actual exoskeleton is still being developed and will be available next year, but Sarcos will bring its serpentine Guardian S inspection robot.

Our goal is to create a world where the next person you meet, or the next booth you visit, may have the idea or solution you need to for the world's next great innovation. That's the vision we are dedicated to, and we hope you'll join us. If you have any questions, I'm also the expo director, so email me directly at [email protected].

About the Author

John Hitch | Senior Editor

John Hitch writes about the latest manufacturing trends and emerging technologies, including but not limited to: Robotics, the Industrial Internet of Things, 3D Printing, and Artificial Intelligence. He is a veteran of the United States Navy and former magazine freelancer based in Cleveland, Ohio.

Questions or comments may be directed to: [email protected]

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