This was my first NPE Space Draw. If you've never been, it's kind of like the NBA draft minus the hype, and with its own set of celebrities and networking. (Instead of LeBron James going to Cleveland, you had Demag Plastics Group going to the South Hall of Chicago's McCormick Place, that sort of thing.)
NPE2009 doesn't happen until June 22-26 of next year. But on these two frigid winter days of Feb. 19-20, the industry came together in Chicago, in the mammoth Skyline Ballroom of McCormick's new West building.
Officials from exhibitors scrutinized the maps showing space and checked out live floor plans displayed on a big screen behind the stage and smaller flat-screen panels along the side. Other folks waited to draw for remaining floor space. People made cell phone calls and chatted with colleagues in a relaxed setting.
There was even some pomp and circumstance, with rally-the-troops talks by Bill Carteaux, president and chief executive of NPE's organizer, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.; Gene Sanders, SPI's vice president of trade shows, and committee leaders.
Between trips to the coffee station and checking out the breathtaking views of Chicago through the huge windows, I got a tour of McCormick Place West and its 470,000-square-foot hall.
Lots of new features will make NPE2009 quite a bit different from earlier shows. People at the Space Draw learned some things:
* The Society of Plastics Engineers will collocate its 2009 Antec conference at NPE, using the ample meeting rooms in McCormick West. The meeting space is just an escalator ride away from the show floor in the new building.
* Tiny radio-frequency-indentification tags built into visitor badges will give, for the first time, detailed information on where people travel in a booth. This is especially important for some of the larger machinery booths. It will be fascinating to study traffic. What an excellent tool for improving booth design.
* The Plastics Hall of Fame induction ceremonies will move from the Grand Ballroom of the Chicago Hilton and Towers - an old-school ornate space, with chandeliers and plush surroundings - to the Skyline Ballroom. This will be a huge change in the ``feel'' of the event. The NPE Space Draw used just two-fifths of the Skyline, which looks big enough to be a jet hangar and is shaped like one too, with a curved roof and white ceiling tiles. If they do a good job of promoting the Hall of Fame dinner, and are able to make a rather utilitarian space seem intimate, it should work well.
* SPI will set up pavilions to highlight emerging technologies in McCormick West.
* SPI's Alliance for Plastics Processors will hold its product design competition at NPE2009.
None of these changes, alone, will rock the world of plastics. But when taken together, they should add up to solid improvements that will help keep NPE in the forefront of global plastics trade shows.
Bill Bregar is an Akron, Ohio-based Plastics News senior reporter.