At NPE 2006, the machines are back in the booth at Milacron Inc. - 10 of them, to be exact - a big difference from the NPE three years ago, when Milacron surprised the plastics trade show universe by bringing zero pieces of equipment to McCormick Place.
``We learned a lot and we're taking a lot of what we've learned from that show, but we also realize that we didn't want our competitors' machines to be the only machines at the show that our customers were at, kicking the iron,'' Brown said.
Milacron officials discussed the machines/no machines issue at a pre-NPE news conference, held May 17 at the company's main plant in Batavia.
This week in Chicago, visitors to Milacron's booth will see five injection presses, three extruders and two blow molding machines, plus D-M-E mold components and aftermarket parts - all in one booth measuring 24,748 square feet.
``For the first time in a long time, we have a unified booth. In other words, all the Milacron companies are going to be represented in our stand,'' said Robert Strickley, marketing director.
At NPE 2003, Milacron decided to substitute the trade show staple of operating machines with other exhibit technology such as ``smart board'' plasma-screen displays that linked to presses running at the Batavia factory. Two-way audio allowed show visitors to talk to the technician. Milacron also showed videotapes of molding jobs at more than 20 customer plants.
At the time, Brown and Harold Faig, the former president and chief operating officer, insisted the zero-machines decision was part of an overall strategy - not merely a way to cut costs, short term. But then, in 2004, the company had plenty of presses at the massive K show in Dusseldorf, Germany, and presses graced the stand in 2005 at the smaller, European Fakuma show in Friedrichshafen, Germany. Faig no longer works at Milacron.
Milacron has struggled to return to profitability in recent years. At NPE 2000, the last of the U.S. boom years for plastics machinery, Milacron brought a whopping 37 pieces of equipment.
Now presses have returned to Milacron's NPE 2006 booth. Brown stood by the story, saying the 2003 no-machines decision was not just a cost-cutting move.
``We were hoping that it would be the trend, as far as others [competitors] that would say, `Hey that makes sense.' But it didn't catch on,'' Brown said. ``We did approach that show from a creative standpoint, trying to be a little more innovative about how we went to the market.''
Brown said the 2003 experience forced Milacron employees to focus even more on customer needs and specific applications-related problems.
``A lot of times, we used to go to the show and let the machines speak for themselves,'' Brown said.
Brown declined to say how much Milacron will spend on NPE 2006. In 2003, Faig had said Milacron would typically spend about $2 million or $3 million to transport and set up working machinery at a major trade show.
Big trade shows are a cost of doing business, Brown said. ``It is a huge investment. We tried to go machineless three years ago, hoping that it would be a trend. Unfortunately, the competition is not going machineless,'' he said.