With a new look and new owners, ATExpo 2007 delivered what manufacturers want.

The world of business and manufacturing is all about numbers-and the numbers for this year’s Assembly Technology Exposition (ATExpo) trade show speak for themselves, with some 26,000 attendees making the trek to Rosemont, IL, to see the latest in assembly, quality, plastics and electronics manufacturing technology.

It was also a year of change. In 2006, trade show organizer and publisher Canon Communications (Los Angeles) acquired ATExpo, which is sponsored by ASSEMBLY magazine, along with Quality Expo and National Manufacturing Week from competitor Reed Exhibitions (Norwalk, CT), a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. (New York). Cannon then co-located the three shows with PLASTEC Midwest and the new Electronics Assembly Show, to create a single event spanning the length and breadth of the manufacturing spectrum.

In all, the various co-located shows included more than 1,400 exhibitors occupying some 275,000 square feet of ATExpo’s traditional venue, the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, adjacent to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Products and technologies on hand included everything from mechanical fasteners and adhesives to dispensing valves, robots, test and assembly equipment, packaging equipment, X-ray inspection systems and surface mount assembly machines.

According to Canon, the idea behind “mega-events” like the new one in Rosemont is to make things as easy as possible for engineers and purchasing managers by bringing together a wide array of vendors and technologies. In recent years, the company has successfully created similar shows on the West Coast, in the Northeast and Southeast. And the idea seems to work in the Midwest as well, with exhibitors of all stripes saying they were pleased with both overall traffic and specific sales leads.

“This was the best show my company has participated in over the last four years,” says Chris Round, marketing manager for conveyor manufacturer QC Industries (Batavia, OH). “We do a tremendous number of shows on an annual basis, and the quantity and quality of the leads were outstanding. The idea of bundling this show with the others is a recipe for success that Canon has proven in many other parts of the country, and it continues to work.”

“For more than a decade, Canon has delivered on its a commitment to co-locate allied advanced, technology-based manufacturing shows under one roof, geographically positioned in the center of their served markets,” says Canon vice president for events, Kevin O’Keefe. “In so doing, we offer a compelling resource to OEM buyers while at the same time providing exhibitors access to thousands of additional sales targets across multiple industries.”

As a testament to the success of the show, Canon says it has already sold 70 percent of the space available for next year’s event, which will once again be held in Rosemont, Sept. 23-25. The 2008 event will not include Quality Expo, which will instead be held June 12-13 at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi, MI. However, in its place will be a new offering titled Medical Design & Manufacturing Midwest, which will be similar to shows already being held in New York, Minneapolis and Anaheim, CA-the latter now in its 24th year. The new medical show is expected to draw some 300 exhibiting companies and 4,000 medical design and manufacturing professionals.

Canon also recently announced that yet another co-located event called Plastics USA will be folded in with the other shows taking place in 2008. Canon purchased Plastics USA from the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. (Washington) in early 2007. Historically, this event has drawn some 350 exhibitors and 10,000 attendees.

As in years past, one of the highlights of a show was a fully functioning electronics assembly line, organized by Electronics Manufacturing Solutions Inc.

Something for Everyone

ATExpo 2007 and the other four co-located exhibitions provided a wide array of offerings, some educational, some innovative and many of them both colorful and thought provoking.

As in past years, one of the highlights of the week was a fully functioning electronics assembly line, put together by the Electronics Assembly Suppliers’ Initiative (EASi). This year’s line, which assembled a fully functioning handheld, digital heart monitor, included a couple of dozen stations doing everything from wave soldering to stenciling to depaneling.

The electronics manufacturing services company Electronics Manufacturing Solutions Inc. (Mooresville, IN) coordinated the effort. The heart monitors were available as souvenirs for anyone visiting the line.

Another industry-specific feature of this year’s show was the Wire Harness Pavilion, marking its fifth year as a part of ATExpo and once again endorsed by the Wire Harness Manufacturers Association (Eden Prairie, MN). As in the past, the pavilion featured the latest products and services for manufacturing electronic cable assemblies, wiring harnesses and cord sets.

Yet another industry-specific offering was the Medical Device Assembly Pavilion, a kind of warm-up for next year’s Medical Design & Manufacturing Midwest show. Like next year’s show, and Canon’s other medical events, the medical device pavilion included a wide range of products and technologies tailored specifically for manufacturers competing in the nation’s $104 billion medical device sector.

In terms of educational opportunities, ATExpo and the other co-located events continue to play a role as a clearinghouse for new ideas and techniques, thanks to a comprehensive conference program touching on a wide spectrum of manufacturing issues.

As always, there were plenty of opportunities to hear the latest on Six Sigma and lean manufacturing theory. In addition, there were presentations on everything from supply chain management to radio frequency identification and manufacturing in Asia. This year’s conference also provided many engineers a glimpse of the quality side of the manufacturing equation, with a number of conference sessions on topics such as failure analysis, sustainable quality and measurement error.

Complementing these sessions was a new emphasis on environmentally friendly manufacturing. This will be continued in 2008 with yet another co-located feature of the mega-event in Rosemont called the Green Manufacturing Expo.

“Green manufacturing is a growing reality, and we need to provide U.S. manufacturers with all the necessary information and tools to take advantage of the latest products and technology to improve their processes,” says O’Keefe. “The economic benefit of ‘going green’ is very tangible in terms of reducing energy costs, improving recycling and treatment methods, getting ahead of the regulatory curve, and building customer goodwill. Simply put, selling green works.”

Nothing says manufacturing like a life-sized buffalo encased in shrink wrap.

A Walk on the Wild Side

On the more colorful side, ATExpo 2007 also provided its share of fun, with events like the annual Taste of Rosemont cocktail hour and a number of exhibits that put a unique twist on their particular technologies.

Perhaps the most arresting of these was a life-sized buffalo completely encased in blue shrink-wrap over at the Buffalo Shrink Wrap Inc. booth (Clarence, NY). Looming over the show floor, the blue beast bordered on the intimidating, but certainly got the message across-shrink-wrap, buffalo, heavy duty-pure marketing genius.

Equally traffic stopping was an informal “battle of the cars” to see who could flaunt the coolest set of wheels. Not surprisingly, communications giant Sprint Nextel (Overland Park, KS), sponsor of the NASCAR Nextel Cup series, had one its cars on display. However, not to be outdone, metrology equipment manufacturer Metris USA Inc. (Brighton, MI) also had the black and orange No. 31 AT&T car front and center in its exhibit. Another metrology company, FARO Technologies Inc. (Lake Mary, FL), had a truly wicked Corvette built by the Pratt & Miller Chevy Corvette Team for the American LeMans Series.

Then again, for those with a true need for speed there was always the full-sized jet-fighter cockpit over at the booth for the certification organization DNV Certification (Houston).

For those whose interests are a little more sedentary, there was a robotic craps table down at the Epson Robots (Carson, CA) exhibit, complete with a full-scale, green-felt table and a six-axis robot placing the chips and rollin’ the bones. (First a robotic bartender from Motoman Inc. [West Carrolton, OH] and now a robot that gambles-I shudder to think what vice those robots guys are going to cater to next!)

Meanwhile, dispensing equipment manufacturer EFD Inc. (East Providence, RI) and adhesives giant Henkel Corp. (Rocky Hill, CT) wooed attendees with a pair of exhibits playing on a cinematic theme. EFD Inc., for example, had posters based on such famous movies as “Grease” and the science fiction classic “The Blob” to draw attention to its product line. Meanwhile, Henkel Corp. included no less than the famed Homer Simpson as part of its movie marquis themed exhibit.

Not to be outdone, robot maker Stäubli Corp. (Duncan, SC) had a movie running, which showed an intricately choreographed dance routine, as performed by a lineup of its products. (For those who may have missed it, the movie can also be seen on the ASSEMBLY TV web page at www.assemblymag.com.)

Finally, for the foot weary-275,000 square feet of floor space is a lot of area to cover!-ASSEMBLY magazine was offering attendees pieces of birthday cake as part of the ongoing celebration of our 50th anniversary. Not surprisingly, the cake didn’t last long, even though none of the robots in the hall were among the takers. Apparently, sweets aren’t good for their internal mechanisms. Then again, we at ASSEMBLY try to avoid technologies of questionable moral character as much as possible. We’ve got our reputations to think of, for heavens sake!

Editor’s Note: For information on next year’s ATExpo, set for Sept. 23-25, visit www.atexpo.com.