Engineers who want some face time with the latest Siemens automation technology won’t have to travel to distant trade shows or user conferences this year. Starting in July, the company will bring a huge technology road show to cities across North America. Called "exiderdome: World of Automation," this exhibition has little in common with the automation events that take place in unmemorable hotels and convention centers across the country.
Judging from a tour of the exiderdome yesterday in Monterrey, Mexico, this particular exhibition will be pretty hard to forget. It takes place in its own portable building composed of more than 50 shipping containers stacked three stories high. It has a footprint that’s nearly half the size of a football field. In its 10,000 sqft of space, it houses technology displays, a high-definition theater whose audio-visual system weighs about 4 tons, a two-story atrium and a swanky lounge for lucky VIPs. In all, is display rooms contain more than 137,000 automation and motion control products.
And the exhibit actually travels with about 30 percent more products than that, allowing Siemens to tailor the exhibit to different industries and groups at each stop, according to Matias Ernst, global project manager for the exiderdome. "Every six to eight months, we update the exhibits to reflect new technology and local interests," he says, "The content in each country or even each city can be very different," he says.
The exiderdome has been on the road since 2005. It has already done two tours of China and is wrapping up a run in Mexico right now. By the time the exhibit opens in the U.S., it will have had about 130,000 visitors, Ernst says.
The first of these U.S. stops will be in Chicago starting on July 21st. From there the exiderdome will go to Detroit, Boston, New York, Charlotte, Orlando, Los Angeles and Denver. The tour wraps up in Houston in May 2009.
Siemens technicians can assemble the building, which is actually squarish rather than dome-shaped, in about ten days. "It goes together like Lincoln Logs," says Thomas Varney, vice president of communications for Siemens Energy & Automation. With steel components that weigh about 220 tons, however, stacking these Lincoln Logs isn’t really child play.
The exiderdome comes down in about the same amount of time and travels on trucks—a convoy that would be 55 strong if Siemens lined them up one after another. For a significant portion of its North American run, however, the exiderdome will travel by an ocean-going barge that will take it first from Chicago to Detroit and then down the St. Lawrence Seaway where it will make some of its Canadian stops. The barge is big enough that will be only about 4 inches of clearance in some of the smaller St. Lawrence locks, Ernst reports.
The exiderdome isn’t Siemens first stab at generating some buzz. In 2004, it put its exhibitino on rails. This "exider train" had far less space for products and technical get togethers, Varney says. The much larger exiderdome fixes that problem.
And that extra space doesn’t come cheap. The exiderdome building alone, designed by OSK in Cologne, Germany, cost about 4 million Euros. Ernst predicts that the entire tour will cost 40-50 million Euros, depending on local costs. "It’s a huge investment," he says. "But we think it will really pay off."