The upcoming K show in Dusseldorf is immense by any standards. This speaks to the importance of the plastics industry in everyone's lives. It's not just a German show, or even just European, but truly worldwide. Here are some tips from someone who has been to the last 13 shows, starting way back in 1963.
Carry a digital camera and take pictures. A little tape recorder can help, too, if you have the patience to transcribe your tapes. Some stands won't allow pictures (ask first) but others will, and many will give you a folder of stuff and/or a CD.
Get a show catalog, also available on disc. It has the addresses and stand numbers of everyone there, lists exhibitors by category, plus other useful information. You may not want to carry it around - the last one weighed 1.3 pounds - as there are directories in every hall and most stands have catalogs, but it is a valuable reference later on.
Allow at least as much time to process what you collect as you've spent at the show. Write a report, even if it's to yourself, to get your findings and impressions down on paper as soon as possible. If you're visiting as a team, divide up the key stands the first day or two, and trade reports and discuss later to return to the ones you think are most important. Carry a cell phone so people can find you wherever you may be.
Don't worry about language. Almost all the stands have people who speak English, as half the visitors are from outside Germany. It's more likely that a non-German exhibitor won't speak German than any of them won't speak English.
If you want to have further contact with an exhibitor, try to at the stand, or find out who is the right person and send him or her an e-mail that day. If you know ahead of time, call the company and try to make an appointment. Don't wait until the end, or worse yet, until you're back home. This show may be better organized, but you'll be at the end of some long lines. The exhibitors are deluged, too.
The main attractions are the machinery halls, where you can see and compare the latest in injection, extrusion, blow molding, and other processes, in operation. But don't forget the other halls - resins and additives, auxiliaries, bookstores, and stands of the various societies and publications that serve the industry.
Best of all are the opportunities to meet people. You'll find the people who do the same thing you do by hanging around the appropriate stands and talking to the others who are also standing/looking at what's going on. Sharp-eyed show-goers also will see the badges and company affiliations.
Also useful are the tech people from the materials and machinery makers. Bring your tech problems and questions and you will often get a hearing, and you can even compare answers from more than one source.
Go on plant visits only if you really have or want a special relationship. Some suppliers will take you to their factories, often many miles away, for demonstrations. It's a good way to see a machine work, but there will be a lot of people there and you'll spend a day doing it.
Don't waste time going out to lunch or dinner, unless it's for business purposes. Eat a big breakfast in the morning and get your lunch at the stands (many have munchies and most have beer) or on the show grounds. If you haven't seen one of the Dutch barge-like hotels lined up along the Rhine, it's worth a visit after hours.
As for dinner, there are a few places downtown worth visiting (Zum Schiffchen and the Schumacher Brewery are good ones) to get the real old-German flavor, but remember that the later you stay out, the less you get done in the evening and the later you show up the next day.
Packaging people should visit a supermarket. There are a few in the department stores downtown, but the really big ones are in the suburbs.
And remember that North German Altbier is more potent than American beers, so don't drink too much, as it dulls observation and keeps you sleeping longer in the next day.
Go, have fun, learn much and come back again in 2010!
Griff is a consulting engineer based in Bethesda, Md.