CHICAGO — What was in abundance at this year's National Manufacturing Week that was nowhere to be found last year? E-commerce, of course.
The events, held March 13-18, attracted more than 120 electronic businesses to Chicago during National Manufacturing Week.
The businesses exhibited in the first e-manufacturing pavilion at the National Industrial Enterprise IT Show and Conference, said Ladd Biro, senior vice president of marketing and member services of the National Association of Manufacturers, a show sponsor.
"It's a natural focus that's happening in the industry," Biro said. "The Internet is changing the way [manufacturers] do business almost overnight."
Though NAM has seen the trend forming during the past couple of years, a separate pavilion for e-commerce companies was not even considered at 1999's National Manufacturing Week. This year, it was a must, Biro said.
>From software to buying and selling raw materials and finished products via the Internet, manufacturers had plenty to sort through.
"Going in fresh, you would have to be awe-struck by the options, and obviously confused by the alphabet soup," Biro said.
Atlanta-based NetVendor Inc. was among many e-commerce exhibitors. NetVendor allows manufacturers to buy surplus resin supplies at discounted prices through its PlasticsBin.com Web site.
>From there, a molder could aim to manage aspects of its supply chain using software from firms such as Supplybase Inc. of San Francisco. Or it could move right into manufacturing via the Internet using scheduling software by Preactor Inc.
The Warwick, N.Y.-based company says its software can do everything from monitoring when to buy supplies to scheduling staff.
And if one of the machines breaks down, not to worry. There shouldn't be any downtime if a molder is hooked up to eMation of Mansfield, Mass. The company installs control panels inside machines that allow "the manufacturer to look directly into that machine when something goes wrong," said Valerie Harding, the firm's marketing manager.
The machine's manufacturer can assess a problem and send out a worker, thereby trimming the downtime, she said.
The panel periodically lets the molder — and its manufacturer—know when parts might need to be replaced, Harding said.
A molder can order replacement parts online through services such as iMark.com Inc. The company was sold March 15 to Pittsburgh-based FreeMarkets Inc.
Once finished products are manufactured and ready for consumption, Web sites such as Plaslink.com and SupplierMarket.com, offer searchable online catalogs for plastic products.
Though there already are many e-commerce choices for manufacturers, there are newcomers to the industry every day and, according to Biro, future National Manufacturing Weeks will accommodate them.
NAM expects the e-commerce pavilion to be the fastest-growing segment of National Manufacturing Week.
Unofficial preliminary results recorded more than 60,000 attendees and 2,200 exhibitors at the show this year, he said.