CHICAGO — NPE 1997, held in Chicago June 16-20, looked splashy and polished, but unexpected move-in problems in the new South Hall plagued suppliers of the really big injection molding machines.
Several exhibitors said they had to use two cranes instead of one to move in the massive injection molding machines with clamping forces of 1,000 tons and larger. Some companies said they were told the South Building's ceiling is 12 feet lower than the other McCormick Place buildings — a fact disputed by McCormick Place management.
A lower ceiling would mean cranes could not be fully raised, so they could not lift the maximum amount of weight, requiring an additional crane in several cases.
``Crane capacity was diminished,'' said Bob Netzel, services manager of Cincinnati Milacron Inc.
Milacron had the largest amount of booth space at NPE — 21,000 total square feet and 19 machines. Its largest press, a 1,760-ton machine, was moved into place June 5 before the show. The clamp end weighs 175,000 pounds.
As Netzel described it, a crane is like a person's arm. Fully extended upward, you can hold a lot of weight. But keeping your arm straight and moving it down dramatically reduces how much you can hold.
This is the first NPE to use the huge, 840,000-square-foot South Hall, which was completed in late 1996 at a cost of $675 million.
Everyone contacted Monday liked the South Hall, but Milacron and some other big-press makers exhibiting there were frustrated.
``They built a building, a world-class facility, that can't accommodate the size of equipment that we're bringing in,'' said Sid Rains, vice president of sales and marketing for Van Dorn Demag Corp.
Van Dorn Demag had problems moving in its 1,760-ton injection press. It ended up taking two cranes to move instead of one — adding an extra day to Van Dorn Demag's move-in.
During move-in, the very large machines get put into place first, using cranes mounted on special trucks. Smaller pieces of equipment then are installed.
Moving equipment into NPE is handled by GES Exposition Services of Las Vegas. Paul Romer, general manager of GES' Chicago branch, said the company would not comment.
Exhibitors said the crane operators, and other personnel involved in setting up the machinery, were professional and competent, but they were limited by the ceiling.
Several said the South Hall ceiling is lower than the ceiling of the upper level of the North Hall. But in reality, the ceilings of North and South are the same height — 40 feet high — said John Devona, senior director of marketing for McCormick Place. The East Hall does have a higher ceiling, at 50 feet high, he said.
The U.S. average for exhibit space is 35 feet, Devona said.
``So even at 40 [feet], our ceiling is generally higher than most exhibit halls in the United States. Forty feet is certainly not a low ceiling in our industry,'' he said.
``It's possible that some of these exhibitors have been in the East Building in the past,'' Devona said.
For another explanation, look up. The South Hall apparently has more duct work and large vents that the North Hall — in effect lowering the room for a crane between the girders. But Devona could not confirm whether there is any difference.
Engel North America also had trouble, said Kurt Fenske, vice president of sales and marketing. Engel has one of the largest injection molding machines at the show — a 2,000-ton machine that weighs 210,000 pounds.
One solution, Milacron's Netzel said, would be gantry cranes, which operate like a lift at a service station, lifting up and down using a hydraulic piston. They are wheeled into position under a machine, not overhead, so ceiling height does not matter.
``Next time, if they don't have these here, I will bring my own,'' he said.
Another problem: Trucks got backed up in the South Hall.
``They only have one door, one ramp up and one ramp down. It was very, very congested,'' Netzel said.
Krauss-Maffei Corp. and HPM Corp. also reported problems with big-machine move-in, although an HPM spokesman called it just ``a nuisance problem.''
At least one South Hall big-machine exhibitor, Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd., reported no problems. A Husky spokesman said the company did its research months earlier, and avoided last-minute surprises in Chicago.