Many companies that planned to exhibit at NPE2021 are relieved that the Plastics Industry Association chose to cancel the show.
That includes Conrad Bessemer, president and CEO of auxiliary equipment maker Novatec Inc. After being part of Operation Warp Speed — the national effort to develop and distribute COVID-19 vaccines and diagnostics — he has been wary about attending NPE2021, which had been scheduled for May 17-21 in Orlando, Fla.
"We're not in a young industry. Most of us are mature people and with the age factor there are comorbidities like hypertension and diabetes," Bessemer said in a phone interview.
In addition to plastics machinery, the Baltimore-based company supplies equipment to virus test makers and makes fever-scanning devices to screen people for high temperatures, one of the signs of the deadly disease that has killed more than 350,000 Americans and 1.87 million people worldwide.
While Bessemer was among the first to publicly say that his company would not exhibit at the show, a lot of plastics industry executives quietly agreed with him. Some now say that they also leaned toward not attending or at least scaling back their presence at the event, which is organized by the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association.
Injection press and robot maker Wittmann Battenfeld Inc. in Torrington, Conn., suspended plans for an in-person NPE2021 a couple months ago, President David Preusse said in an email.
"We had decided some time ago that May was too early to allow risk to our staff," he explained. "The viral spread is well underway these days, which shows how aggressively these various strains can travel. Unfortunately, no one exactly knows who may have serious or tragic outcomes.
"As staff would have returned from the show, some carriers would be affecting other staff, family, friends, and we couldn't take that risk. Ethics is still important," he said.
The danger of exposing people to a deadly virus weighed heavily against the trade show, which was first held in 1946 as the National Plastics Exposition. Exhibitors were also concerned that attendance would be limited. In 2018, NPE had 56,034 registered attendees. Bessemer thought the 2021 show might attract just 10-20 percent of that total.
Beyond the reduced numbers, with social distancing, companies would not be able to send as many staff and machines.
Also, Novatec employees weren't embracing the idea of traveling to Florida and spending long hours indoors in a crowded place.
"I'd have to be drawing short straws to determine who would go to the show to be fair," Bessemer said, adding the sales team was "overjoyed" with the company's decision to halt in-person NPE plans even before the association made its move to cancel an in-person show.
"On a three-year cycle like this, you keep hoping for the best. But, the closer we got, it increasingly looked to us like the stars were not going to align," Bessemer said.
Novatec had made a $50,000 down payment for its booth to the association. Another $50,000 was due Jan. 8. After that, Novatec would have faced "significant" expenses to build out its booth, transport machines, lodge and feed employees, and more.
"For $100,000, you get a pad of concrete," Bessemer said. "The booth cost is like a down payment. Our budget for the event is $750,000. Last time, the lighting alone was $60,000."
Preusse doesn't think it will hurt Wittmann Battenfeld or the plastics industry to skip an NPE cycle.
"I confess, with a smile, my budget improved dramatically without such resources and investments for 27 truckloads to build a molding plant in two weeks in Orlando," Preusse added. "Our sales and management are still currently having difficulties to get client appointments in groups of two to four people, with precautions as masks and frequent testing. We are very hopeful customer meetings may improve in the second half of 2021 and we look forward to it."
At some point, Bessemer expects the booth deposit money to be rolled forward to the next NPE event, which is set for 2024, or for the company to be recompensated somehow.
"In our case, $50,000 is not small change, but it's nothing compared to exposing people," Bessemer said.