Hits and Misses at the 33rd International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS)

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By Ryan Martin | 3Q 2022 | IN-6680

The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) returned as an in-person event for the first time since 2018. We saw Additive Manufacturing (AM) companies embracing Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) qualities, industrial companies propositioning as software/technology companies, and the inconspicuous absence of select vendors in certain peer groups (i.e., Carbon in AM, Rockwell Automation for traditional automation, and Microsoft for the cloud). This ABI Insight covers highlights and takeaways from multiple full days of meetings and booth visits among 2,000+ manufacturing exhibitors.

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The Return of an Era


The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) returned as an in-person event for the first time since 2018. Notable changes include AM companies shifting focus from prototyping to production applications, including Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capabilities like device management, remote monitoring, and third-party application development; industrial companies, such as Siemens, positioning as a software/technology company that sells solutions versus discrete products; and the inconspicuous absence of select vendors, including Carbon in AM, Rockwell Automation for traditional automation, PTC for Industry 4.0 software, and Microsoft for the cloud. The most pressing challenges identified at the show were supply chain resiliency, how to find and implement immediately accreditive productivity enhancing applications, and best practices to address labor/talent shortages—a common issue cited by many. This ABI Insight covers highlights and takeaways from multiple full days of meetings and 2,000+ manufacturing exhibitors.

What's Hot—IMTS Hits


Machine Builders: They were in full force. IMTS as a show is traditionally machine builder focused, so it is fair and understandable to see just that: machine builders. However, one difference between IMTS in Chicago and Hannover Messe in Germany was the posture toward sustainability. In Germany, the sustainability moniker couldn’t be missed. In the United States, sustainability as a topic was scarcely found outside of the Hannover Messe USA pavilion.

Instead, the focus in the North and South Halls was on traditional industrial automation, comparatively more awareness around the benefits of digitalization and digitally-enabled solutions, but still very much traditional industrial automation.

One of the reasons is cost—energy costs in the United States are one-third of those in Europe, which means less of an impetus to adopt renewables (for now)—and instead more of a focus on automation and solutions that address labor and supply chain challenges. ABI Research believes this will change by the next edition of IMTS because U.S. machine builders and their customers will continue to struggle to attract talent without a more positive and proactive posture toward sustainability. The regulatory environment may also require a more proactive stance toward data transparency and governance.

Ultimately, the next generation of innovators and contributors want to work for companies that represent values that align with their own, which includes sustainability in no small way—a sentiment shared among machine builders, robotics vendors, and manufacturing shoppers with whom ABI Research spoke.

Robotics: Universal Robots had a great demo of a Collaborative Robot (cobot) and low-code interface, showing how a robot or fleet of cobots could be programmed in a matter of minutes by anyone with brief software orientation. Other cobot vendors took IMTS as an opportunity to debut new business models for renting robots, rather that purchasing them, making the solutions more easily accessible to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Otto had a compelling exhibit with an autonomous forklift with spatial mapping software that improves routes or processes over time. Dassault Systèmes showed how its software can help control more than 200 different robotics devices.

Additive Manufacturing (AM): AM had a major presence and, in some ways, its own home in the West Hall. The location itself was far enough from the rest of the show to feel like it was on its own, yet sticking with the machine builder/maker theme, there’s no doubt this section had enough chutzpah to command some serious space. The entryway was guarded by industry stalwarts HP, Stratasys, and 3D Systems, and behind them newer entrants like Desktop Metal. HP had a major unveiling for the MetalJet S100, the company’s flagship production AM workhorse first debuted in 2018. The most notable changes are the addition of HP-branded peripheral equipment for all parts of the process except sintering (i.e., pre- and post-production stations à la Desktop Metal), which many manufacturers will already have. These changes follow the great consolidation in the metal binder jetting market, resulting from Desktop Metal picking up ExOne (a unicorn picking up the incumbent) and the acquisition of Digital Metal by Markforged, which also had a massive booth presence and is on somewhat of an acquisition spree (recently scooped Teton Simulation).

Stratasys is the other notable mention. If there is one company going all in on production polymer AM, it is Stratasys. In many ways, the company is in the midst of completely transforming from a Three-Dimensional (3D) printing company to an AM solutions provider, an important distinction that alludes to manufacturing production versus prototyping. Already, Stratasys provides a diverse mix of options for polymers, has more than doubled down on software as a strategic differentiator, and is starting to open its ecosystem in terms of partners and materials. The company’s GrabCAD software was cited by an executive at another firm as a standout for updates and innovation.

Misses and Opportunities at IMTS


Industry 4.0-focused companies have started to tout wholistic solutions versus discrete products, but these conversations were almost solely relegated to the Hannover Messe USA portion of IMTS. Here, and at Hannover Messe Germany, ABI Research saw end-to-end demonstrations of solutions from companies like Autodesk, Dassault Systèmes, Hexagon, and Siemens. Attendees also witnessed the smaller, yet still sizable presence of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which hosted partners, including GE, SKF, Telit, and Tulip (which also had its own booth). There were also a number of inconspicuous absences, including Rockwell Automation (although Plex was there), and, interestingly, PTC, despite its peers, partners, and competitors.

Microsoft (Azure) and Google (Google Cloud Platform (GCP)) were another double miss at IMTS. Their absence was, at best, surprising, if not inconsistent with their investment in the German edition of Hannover Messe. These companies—especially AWS—are fertile ground for exposure for technology companies selling into manufacturing. Manufacturing solutions providers should look to partner with AWS, Azure, and GCP for industry events like Hannover Messe and IMTS. In the future, this could include connectivity at one end (i.e., 5G network providers, such as Nokia and Ericsson) and machine builders at the other (e.g., ABB, John Deere, Mazak, and Stratasys). The 2-year runway between IMTS editions leaves ample room for change between shows.

It's also fair to point out that there were more halls that could have been filled. This does not necessarily mean filling them with more of the same, but with peripheral equipment that factories need for a cohesive product; components other than what can be machined, such as wire harnesses and upholstery; and a completely new era for intelligent sensors and connectivity that also includes companies like Haas. It’s in this sense that IMTS evidenced the deep heritage of silos and fragmentation in industrial technology markets.

Industrial software and quality were cornered off in the East Hall, much like these domains have been treated historically in the factory—integral, yet offline. ABI Research expects that the software portion and everything digital will be much more pronounced in future iterations of IMTS, as it was this year compared to 2018. The digital side of manufacturing has massively shifted from conceptual to practical considerations, and manufacturers require solutions that deliver a positive impact almost immediately.