If You're an Engineer, You Need to Be Attending Trade Shows

If you want to remain at the top of your game, trade show attendance should be part of every engineer’s strategy for growth and continuing education.
(Image source: Pixabay / TeroVesalainen) 

In this age, you can find out everything you want to know about anything with just a few keystrokes. There are processes, materials, components, and modules for which you can get nearly instantaneous data of all types (pricing, availability, specification, reviews, etc.) via simple online searches. The problem is you have to know what you are searching for. The Internet is a true wonder for researching when you know what you are looking for. But what if something is missing?

I must admit that it has been quite some time since I attended a fairly large trade show. Having not gone for many years, I realized there are some very important things I was missing by not getting out of the house every now and then. I've spoken at a few Embedded Systems Conferences (ESCs) hosted by UBM, the parent company of Design News and several other media brands. There are often trade shows happening as a companion to the conference content. When, for the first time in many years, I attended and walked the floor of a trade show, my initial expectation was that I was going to see vendor after vendor showing me things I already knew about (yawn).

Indeed, many of the technologies, capabilities, products, etc. on display were things I knew existed (and many were vendors I also knew quite well). The “ah ha” moment came when I started to discover things I did not know existed!

Without attending this trade show, I would not have known to research some of the products and services that I saw. For example, I found pre-packaged sensors targeting one market for which I saw applications in our company in totally different markets. I discovered various types of rapid prototyping systems of which I had previously been unaware. And I found new suppliers of products and services to supplement those with which I was already familiar.

With all that in mind, take into account that some of these companies are relatively small or new. Such companies may have a limited web presence.

What does this mean? Well, even if I was looking for the products or services they offer, these new or small suppliers may not show up readily in a web search (or might have turned up three or four pages deep, minimizing the chance that I would discover them). If I had not physically attended the event, I would never have found them.

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Part of being a top-notch engineer is gaining knowledge throughout one’s career. Being informed about what is available or new is a part of that knowledge base that an engineer wants to continuously build.

Certainly, some of the things you might see at a trade show are not solving an immediate problem. However, they might help with a problem you might you need to solve tomorrow. If you expect to solve problems in new and creative ways you have to pack your memory with a deep knowledge of not only what is state-of-the-art today, but also what will be in the future.

This does not imply the need to go to as many trade shows as possible each year, but every engineer should get to at least one or two per year. My company is fortunate to be in relatively easy proximity of New York City and the surrounding suburbs, where there are multiple events held throughout the year, making trade show attendance a relatively low out-of-pocket cost. Hopefully, you are at a company that appreciates the intrinsic value of having team members attend shows.

I have advised my management team to find opportunities to cycle our engineering team members into events similar to the ones I recently attended. If you are a manager, I highly recommend a similar strategy. You might be surprised at the results.

Mitch Maiman is the President and Cofounder of Intelligent Product Solutions (IPS). He honed his deep knowledge of product design on the strength of a 30-year career with companies that manufacture commercially successful products for the consumer, industrial, and DoD markets. Prior to launching IPS, Mitch was VP of Engineering at Symbol Technologies. He can be reached at [email protected].

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