Plastics industry movers, shakers and makers have been waiting almost three years to meet again in Orlando, Fla., and fill the Orange County Convention Center with the newest machines for processing a myriad of materials.
Put on by the Washington-based Plastics Industry Association, NPE, initially called the National Plastics Exhibition, dates back to 1946.
The last event — NPE2018 — set records: 2,174 exhibiting companies in more than 1.2 million net square feet of sold-out exhibit floor space. A total of 56,034 people registered to attend NPE2018, which was up 1.7 percent from the previous show in 2015 and was the largest number since the show moved to Orlando in 2012.
Will those people return along with all the exhibitors for NPE2021, which is scheduled for May 17-21?
The question is on a lot of minds as the COVID-19 outbreak rages in the United States and the world holds out hope that a vaccine will be widely available come spring.
One machinery builder, Kautex Machines Inc., has no intentions at this point to participate in an in-person show or a hybrid trade show. With Kautex an OEM in an uncertain world, President Admir Dobraca said company officials don't think the show should go on in May.
"We believe … it would be best if such a major show would be moved to a later date in order to allow everyone to organize in a more controlled fashion," Dobraca said.
Nine long months into the pandemic, however, Kautex seems to be an exception. Other machinery makers are making plans to exhibit at the triennial event as well as backup plans in case they need to go virtual or do some kind of hybrid affair.
Bill Duff, general manager of sales and marketing for Yizumi-HPM Corp., said the Iberia, Ohio-based company is designing a booth to minimize contact between people and demonstrate four machines.
Founded in 1877 as Hydraulic Press Manufacturing Co., Yizumi-HPM also is hiring a company to produce webinars from the show, which will feature machines for packaging and two-platen technology as well as a full-electric model and a standard toggle machine that is its biggest seller.
"We hope collectively by the time the show goes the pandemic will be winding down," Duff said in a phone interview. "A vaccine can only help with people getting back to business as usual. Most vendors will be there. The show is always a shot in the arm for the year."
NPE2018 resulted in "considerable sales" for Yizumi-HPM, including two 250- and 350-ton machines on exhibit.
"We shipped right from the show to their location. Some people come ready to buy. They can see the technology and shop. I'm optimistic it will be a good turnout. It's sales. You have to be optimistic."
And, it's 2020 — a year that has killed more than 280,000 Americans in wave after wave of novel coronavirus outbreaks — so you have to be prepared during planning.
"We will be taking precautions," Duff said. "We're working on our booth design to limit physical exposure. It will have sit-down areas with partitions and Plexiglas in front of staff so our customers feel it is a safe and healthy environment."
Steven Rocheleau, president of Rocheleau Tool & Die Co., said the Fitchburg, Mass.-based manufacturer of blow molding machines and automation equipment is at about the same point.
"We are talking about booth design, what types and how much equipment to bring, ideas of how to engage customers safely and generate new ways to promote our company and our industry as solution providers through these difficult times," Rocheleau said in an email. "Our roots are in manufacturing, not marketing, so these types of challenges become more interesting to deal with."
Friedrich Kanz, president of Arburg Inc., said the injection molding press builder plans to have a big booth — almost 10,000 square feet — to display Arburg solutions, molding machines, molding cells and digital solutions.
"So we are planning that this show is going to happen, and the earlier the vaccine is out, the higher the chances are," Kanz said. "If things do not develop that way, of course, we will participate in an alternative format, but as I said, right now we are going full-speed planning to have equipment on display in Orlando in May."
Uniloy Inc. is also making big NPE2021 plans, President and CEO Brian Marston said. The Tecumseh, Mich.-based blow molding equipment manufacturer will have a UR Recip, UIB Injection and displays for its industrial line, mold and aftermarket offerings at its booth as well as a UCS Shuttle machine at its partner booth FGH. In all, Uniloy will showcase four new technologies at NPE2021.
"We're very excited about NPE," Marston said. "K 2019 was our first opportunity to showcase the 'new' Uniloy, and it was a whirlwind to put the booth together in such a short manner — three months. In doing so, we were unable to ship and run a machine. NPE2021 will be a very different story; we will have three machines at the show."
Uniloy is still looking at alternatives for a hybrid or virtual event.
Michael Duff, vice president of sales and service at Graham Engineering, said company officials are monitoring the situation closely.
"The status of the virus, vaccinations and travel restrictions will play into this," Duff said.
Andrew Wheeler, president of Windmoeller & Hoelscher Corp. North America, is weighing similar factors.
"It is really hard to tell right now because while a few vaccines are promising, the show is in just under six months," Wheeler said in an email. "As we all know, timing is everything and in the case of NPE, it's also tight. NPE is a valuable show, and we just need to wait and see what's going to happen."