IMTS 2010

I spent most of Wednesday and Thursday at McCormick Place in Chicago for the International Manufacturing Technology Show. IMTS is held every two years and the last time I was at this trade show, the global economy was tanking. The manufacturing sector has been to hell in the past 24 months and it isn’t quite back yet. Real estate, finance, and other industries have all suffered, but manufacturing, the backbone of the global economy, has been hammered.

Fortunately, my unofficial survey of IMTS exhibitors yielded some positive forecasts. I don’t want to overstate what I heard, but the mood was downright buoyant. The show seemed crowded, but you should consult the official attendance figures if you want facts. I saw a lot of activity. I spent time with many major machine tool manufacturers, including Index Traub, Marubeni Citizen Cincom, Tsugami, Okuma, Haas, Hardinge, RoyalMaster, and Matsuura. All stated that they are really busy and booked with orders through the fall and into next year. Many cited recoveries in the medical, automotive, power generation, oil & gas, industrial, and aerospace sectors.

Those sectors cover the bulk of the metal-cutting segment of the manufacturing economy. I also visited with major software suppliers, including Delcam and Mastercam. Both expressed positive feelings about a real recovery. I also visited with major metrology companies including OGP, Mitutoyo, and Federal Mahr. The gage makers were also happy with the brisk business in their booths. Naturally, most manufacturing businesses have a long way to go if they expect to grow back to where they were in 2007 and 2008, when growth peaked out.

We have seen some improvements at Horst Engineering, but we continue to approach any turnaround with caution. Orders for durable goods such as aircraft, take a long time to transpire. Quoting activity is high, but buyers know that they are in the driver’s seat right now. If things improve as much as some people predict, then we all should be happy with the results. I’ll remain cautious given the post stimulus political situation, the high unemployment rate, the weak credit and real estate markets, and because of my own reservations.

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