The engineer-to-engineer relationship is invaluable, and it's that high level of personal interaction—along with the chance to see new products—that brought a record 34,000 visitors this year to the SPS/IPC/Drives Show in Nuremberg, Germany, in November. That is an unheard-of number for this type of specialized trade fair.
"Most of them visit us because they have an automation problem," says Andreas Gramer, head of product management at Hirschmann Automation and Control. "They want to talk with an engineer who has deep knowledge of our products and their application.
"We learn about many new projects at the fair," he says. "While we don't make contracts here, our purpose is to make them interested in our products and to thoroughly understand them. Then we arrange for meetings after the fair."
"Most of the problems automation engineers bring to us involve cycle times," says Christopher Haug of Festo. "One asks, 'I have to move a 200-gm load up and down through a distance of 40 mm seven times a second,' and another one says, 'I have a 20-kg container of aluminum at 750C to move through a 90 degree arc in less than two seconds.'" He estimates that Festo engineers field about 200 such questions a day. "All of the people in our stand are specialists, so they can deal with them; our customers expect us to be here."
"Some of the problems they have stretch the limits of performance for current machines," explains Gerd Hoppe of Beckhoff. But Germany's machine builders are into premium products, he says, and improving cycle times is directly related to the overall performance of the machine. "In this highly competitive market, performance is everything."
Solving today's cycle time problems occupies much of the discussions on the floor of SPS/IPC/Drives. But the engineers who come here are also keenly interested in what the control vendors have in mind for the future. Exhibitors usually reserve their "big concept" themes for the management types who go to Hannover Fair in the spring. But some of them now want to communicate these visions with rank-and-file engineers. For a look at some of the noteworthy new products our editors saw at the show, go to page 24.