Flat-screen video displays made their trade-show breakout at last year's NPE 2003, and that snazzy trend continued at Plastics Encounter Midwest, held June 22-24 in Cleveland.
The screens are here to stay at trade shows, said Rich Sieradzki, general manager of Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd.'s technical center in Novi, Mich. ``People take good time out of their day and if you don't make it entertaining - that's why attendance stays low,'' he said.
At the show, presented by Plastics News, Husky ran three of the large Hitachi plasma screens. One was near a 160-ton Hylectric press molding 3-ounce containers. The containers were visible coming out of the two-by-four-cavity stack mold, then they moved away on a conveyor belt. So the video showed something that's difficult even for a seasoned engineer to explain: the machine's hydromechanical clamp.
``It can even help coach our own sales people,'' Sieradzki said.
Husky mounted another video screen above its hot-runner display. The animation showed how Husky can configure hot-runner systems under its Pronto fast-delivery program.
Sieradzki walked around to the booth's back wall, dubbed a ``blind wall'' in booth-design parlance. Normally people just walk on by down the aisle. But Husky mounted two light-box signs and a video screen to highlight its hot-runner nozzles.
Husky started using the flat screens a few years ago. Then the Bolton, Ontario, company bought 27 of the Hitachi screens for NPE 2003, spending about C$6,200 (US$4,480) per screen. When not at trade shows, Husky uses the screens in its facilities, for training or customer presentations.
Husky's NPE booth, much larger than the one in Cleveland, used the screens to augment plenty of operating equipment.
Of course, at NPE 2003, the big video-screen news came from Milacron Inc., which made the groundbreaking decision not to bring any machines to the show. Instead, the Cincinnati-based company ran interactive demonstrations using ``smart board'' plasma displays, with touch screens, and interactive kiosks. Visitors could watch as Milacron officials on the Chicago show floor communicated live via the Internet over the screens with people at Milacron's plants.
Milacron had a small booth at Plastics Encounter Midwest, staffed by old-fashioned salespeople and no sexy audio/visual equipment. But on June 8, the International Communications Industries Association Inc. and CMP Information gave Cleveland Corporate Services - which supplied the touch-screen displays to Milacron - an award for best use of audio-visual technology for a trade show booth for a corporate client. Milacron saved about $2 million by not having to ship more than 30 large machines to NPE. CMP publishes Rental & Staging Systems Magazine.
Tighter trade-show budgets and improved AV screen technology are driving the move for many companies. Some have decided that the video screens can get their message across without breaking the bank or losing significant sales. But most smaller companies can't afford to buy a dozen screens.
``It takes big bucks to bring an injection molding machine to a show,'' said Don Quitter, account manager for Synventive Molding Solutions Inc. of Peabody, Mass. ``Somebody like Husky might have a budget for this show that's bigger than ours for the whole year.''
Sometimes bringing machines isn't even an option. Such is the case with RSP Tooling Inc., a Solon, Ohio-based mold maker. Robert Glenn, an industrial engineer for RSP, said the company cannot demonstrate its equipment at trade shows because of the heat produced by its process. RSP sprays molten steel onto a ceramic negative, an alternative to traditional mold-making practices. In Cleveland, RSP attracted passersby with its 42-inch Phillips plasma screen.
``It's definitely an eye-catcher,'' Glenn said.
A video loop ran throughout the show. ``This is the next best thing to a tour of the facility,'' Glenn said.
Screens can pay for themselves quickly. ``If it gets us a sale on a million-dollar machine, then the $4,000 is well worth it,'' Glenn said. RSP also attends enough trade shows to justify the purchase.
Synventive used the video screen to demonstrate its hot-runner technology - something that's very hard to display at a trade show, Quitter said.
The wall of Synventive's booth was dominated by a 42-inch, wall-mounted plasma screen. The screen projected a repeating Flash animation from a laptop computer hidden in a cabinet.
Synventive also used clear acrylic instead of steel in its display model, to show the inner workings of a hot-runner mold. But Quitter said, ``The animation takes it one step further.''
Plastics Encounter Midwest/MoldMaking Expo was Synventive's third trade show in two months, sales and marketing analyst Nancy Tarbox said. Synventive rented its screen.
``If we went to more shows, it might make sense to buy one,'' she said, noting that it costs around $1,500 per show to rent the flat screen.
Lower cost notwithstanding, there are other advantages to renting a video screen rather than buying it outright. Transportation worries and technical problems are two reasons Tarbox gave for renting.
Tarbox and Quitter both expressed reservations about such a delicate, expensive piece of equipment traveling with the rest of the luggage on an airplane.
Husky is not the only company that thinks there's no substitute for bringing the real thing. Jim Glover, chief financial officer of Kawaguchi America Inc., said he thinks people still want to see the actual machine at trade shows. Kawaguchi's booth spotlighted a whirring, cycling, bright-yellow robot for cutting gates.
``The video screens help a booth attract attention, but I think the robot catches their eye first,'' he said.
Glover said videos can be used for supplemental information at trade shows.
Brooklyn Park, Minn.-based Kawaguchi had a small Sony flat-screen monitor and DVD player at its booth, showing a gate-cutting robot at work in a plant.
``Even people in the industry look at that robot and aren't sure what it does until they see the video,'' he said.
Alliance Gas Systems Inc. of Chesterfield, Mich., used a simple digital projector with a pull-down projection screen, running a three-minute loop to demonstrate water injection molding of a doorknob for a car in Europe.
Alliance bought the inexpensive equipment for training and adapted it for use in its booth, said Steven VanHoeck, vice president and treasurer. For small companies, it's a good alternative to plasma screens, he said.
A trade show is like a trip to the supermarket. ``When somebody walks by a booth, they've got 11/2 seconds to decide if they want to stop,'' VanHoeck said. ``We said, let's do the projection - instead of telling people about it, let's show them.''