John Josko hasn't missed an IMTS in 30 years.
Since the early 80's, through lean times and booms, Josko – a used equipment dealer out of Vernon Hills, Ill. – has made the trek to Chicago's McCormick Place just to watch the industry evolve.
"This is like the Sears catalog for machine tools," he says. "These are the new toys that are coming out. It gives you the pulse of the industry."
In the halls of IMTS, he says, he has watched the manufacturing technologies develop from manual and tape driven machines of the early days all the way to today's vision-guided CNCs. He has watched companies rise and fall with every new trend, every new breakthrough and every new cycle.
In that time, he has grown his business by developing a keen eye for all the subtle changes each new show presents.
If you're going to remain in this industry, you have to know what's happening. You have to be educated."
John Josko, President
Industrial Asset Appraisals & Consulting
"I don't go there with orders to fill or with expectations to get new orders there," he explains. "I go there because, if you're going to remain in this industry, you have to know what's happening. You have to be educated; you have to continue your education by seeing what's out there in the marketplace and what's coming next."
This year, he's in for a treat.
When IMTS kicks off Sept. 8, it will mark the 30th edition of the show. To celebrate that milestone, over 1,900 manufacturers, vendors and technology providers from across the world will be cramming some 15,000 new machines, gadgets and tools into the 1.2 million square feet of McCormick Place to demonstrate the latest advances in manufacturing technology.
Josko will be there, of course. And, if the rate of registrations and hotel bookings prove out, with him will be a crowd of well over 100,000 manufacturers, buyers, sellers and operators, all hoping to get a glimpse of the next big thing.
That seems to fit with the theme of this year's show: "come together."
In this sense, it's very literal – 2014 is tracking to be one of the largest manufacturing technology gathering since IMTS got its start.
But this year, the theme has another meaning.
The 2014 IMTS is going to be about more than just machine tools – it's going to be a show celebrating the full power and capability of the combined force of today's most relevant manufacturing technologies: robots, big data and 3-D printing.
Combined, they paint a clear picture of the future of manufacturing: an ecosystem of smart tools in smart factories creating better parts than the world has ever seen.
Come Together: Smarter Robots for Smarter Machines
"We're finding that the coolest things that are happening in the machine tool world today are happening because of the technologies that are around them," explains Doug Woods, president of the Association for Manufacturing Technology.
"Machine tools are continuing to increase their speed, accuracy, their performance and capabilities," he says. "Of course they do. But more often than not, that is happening because they are happening in concert with other enabling technologies."
This is clear just with a cursory look through the IMTS exhibitors list. In the 1,900 exhibitors registered for the event, it's hard to find a single machine that's not running in conjunction with robots, auto-feeders and conveyors, with some incredible new software system at its heart, linking them all together into a coordinated, communicating mesh.
"There is a true integration of automation going on right now," he explains. "Automation and robotics are getting to be a seamless solution with the original OEM products – largely because it's gotten a lot easier to integrate that technology."
That, explains AMT's Technical Director Tim Shinbara, is due to a new breed of robots that are coming onto the market. "New robots are coming out with instrumentation and sensors embedded in them – and in the work environment itself – to make them safer and easier to use," he explains. "Because of that, we're starting to see cohabitation of both the technician and the robot in the same work cell without all of the traditional orange fences and isolated cells you typically would see. That's a big enabler."
There has been a lot of news lately about these robots – Rethink Robotics' Baxter, for example, or Universal Robots' URs – which boast software-based, context-aware designs that allow picking, placing and part loading with a human co-worker active in the same cell.
Fitting with the theme, these kinds of advances aren't coming out of the robot industry alone – It's from the interaction of big data and analytics.
"This is the digital tapestry of manufacturing," says Woods. "People are using sensors, using automation and collecting a lot more data and information and applying them to large scale data analytics."
The result, he says, is smarter robots helping operators and machines make better decisions faster.
And that results are the kind of metric improvements all 100,000 IMTS attendees want to find: better uptime, faster turnover, fewer defects and better parts.
3-D Printing Explosion
In 2012, there were only a handful of 3-D printers sprinkled through the show, mostly hiding out in the Emerging Technologies Center. But this year, the technologies seem to have officially taken hold.
By best count so far, there will be 30 additive manufacturing exhibitors at the show this year touting the latest in 3-D printing technologies. Among them will be the traditional innovators like Stratasys, 3D Systems and ExOne, of course. But this also includes machines from a new, exploding niche in the industry: hybrid printing.
These machines combine traditional subtractive functionality – tooling, grinding finishing, the whole bit – with 3-D printing in the same machine. That allows users to create just about any part imaginable with nothing but a CAD file and some metal powder.
That can mean making impossible molds from scratch – which emerge from the machine polished and ready for use – or, like in DMG Mori's, it can mean building 3-D printed structures on top of traditionally tooled pieces.
Either way, Woods says, "It's spurring a new way of thinking about manufacturing."
But of course that's not going to be the real draw for the industrial 3-D printing crowd. That's would be the 3-D printed car.
In the middle of the Emerging Technologies Center, Local Motors – along with Cincinnati Inc. and Oak Ridge National Labs – will be printing a full-sized, functional electric car.
It is, as an IMTS release describes it, "a real-world demonstration of achieving sustainable manufacturing by using emerging technologies, such as additive manufacturing, all integrated in a digital environment."
But it also serves as the final embodiment of the "come together" theme.
The design of the car was selected form 200 concepts submitted by designers and engineers all over the world. It's manufacturing at the show will require seamless interaction between CAD files and printers, between the automation equipment Local Motors expert staff.
The car represents the culmination of the entire technological show, it's technologies, it's innovators and the brilliant engineers that make them work, and using them to make something the world has never seen before.
And that is what the future of manufacturing is all about.