How Small Manufacturers Can Get More from Trade Shows

In September, manufacturing professionals from around the US and the world will gather in Chicago for the 32nd International Manufacturing and Technology Show (IMTS 2018). It’s the second largest manufacturing technology event in the world (right behind EMO), and easily the biggest and most attended in the Americas.

But as massive and thorough as IMTS is, there are similarities it shares with its lesser brethren that focus more on vertical industries and regions.

Usually, small- and mid-sized manufacturers (SMMs) create agendas or goals prior to attending these events, and that’s fantastic. A plan is essential to getting the most from any investment of this sort – whether its IMTS or a local SME event.

But often, SMMs are so focused on the prerequisites that they overlook opportunities that can bring greater value to them from what is often a significant dedication of time and resources.


Here are some tips to help SMMs maximize their IMTS or event attendance.




IMTS has evolved over the years to deliver an extensive, mind-boggling curriculum of sessions that run the gambit from the administration, management, and marketing, to specific technologies and applications. Experts from many technology companies hold sessions that demonstrate how others are using their products most efficiently and profitably. Other sessions feature peers from numerous industries and specialties sharing their best practices and lessons learned. While no other event you’re likely to find can match the sheer volume of sessions offered at IMTS, smaller events often offer similar education sessions that can provide unique perspectives and inspiration for your own business and shop floor.


Peer Engagement


An IMTS or regional event usually give SMMs a chance to reacquaint themselves with known vendors or customers, and those are good things. But trade shows also offer the chance to expand experiences and perspectives. Let’s say you’re a mold shop, serving the automotive industry. Many other manufacturing businesses outside that market – medical devices, consumer goods, firearms, etc. – likely face many of the same challenges as yours. Materials, inventories, JIT, marketing, management – there are often unexpected similarities between them that can offer inspiration or even solutions for your own growth. A key to maximizing attendance is to be as social as possible. Having lunch, grab a seat at a table of unknown attendees or exhibitors or presenters and engage them. Strike up conversations with other attendees that are at the same booths or sessions as you are. Attend after-hours events.


Expand Technology Focus


Like with random engagement with peers, spreading out and visiting other technology providers outside a pre-ordained agenda can offer tremendous benefits to SMMs willing to invest the extra time. Many exhibitors at any event are often well-versed in ancillary technologies, other industries, varied applications, and even your competitors’ approaches. CAD/CAM exhibitors offer broad and experienced machining applications advice. ERP providers offer solutions to many types of manufacturing businesses. Same with cutting tool, workholding, and machining center exhibitors. It is up to you and your company to take advantage of this opportunity to leave time to explore and research, and take advantage of these often-overlooked resources that may not be on your radar before attending any show.


Inspiration & Discovery


Like with any expedition, you’re likely to discover unintended benefits if you’ll keep your eyes open – and put yourself in the position to discover. The sheer size and scope of IMTS mean these opportunities are limitless, in a relatively small and accessible place. But while the scale is quite different, these same opportunities are available exist in smaller shows and events throughout the country and year. Adding time for exploration and training your staff to pursue these opportunities can and will improve your return on investment to any event.


‘Inspiration’ is a word used often in this post. It’s not a topic that can be easily measured or directly attributed to revenue or the bottom line. But with any manufacturing business with an eye toward growth, it is extremely important. And it can often lead to new business, new customers, and new efficiencies – and those things DO drive revenue.


What are your tricks and tips for attending manufacturing events – local, or on a national scale? Share them with us, and we’ll include them in a future post.