The numerous benefits of trade shows

Trade exhibitions: Still marveling and learning after all these years. 

I attended my first trade show in October 1990, as a 23-year-old college graduate with a degree in technical journalism. I was two months into my job as an editorial assistant at Plastics Machinery & Equipment (PM&E), a B2B trade magazine that, as the title implies, offered information on the machinery and equipment — injection molding machines, extruders, blowmolders — used to make plastic products.

The show was one of several regional Plastics Fairs hosted by what at the time was the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI), now called the PLASTICS Industry Assn. The Plastics Fair that I attended that October, 27 years ago, was in Las Vegas, NV, US. My boss, PM&E’s editor, ushered me about the show, introducing me to exhibitors and showing me the technology that was the magazine’s focus.

The event was revelatory on several levels. For one, it was my first time in Las Vegas, which, along with New Orleans, San Francisco and New York City, I now consider a place uniquely its own in the American geopolitical, municipal and cultural landscape.

On another, it was my first time seeing in person the machinery about which I had been writing for the magazine. I saw working injection molding machines on the show floor making parts (cups? Frisbees?). I saw an extruder molding profiles. I peered inside a granulator and pressed buttons on a resin dryer. I got an up-close look at a massive multi-cavity injection mold. 

On a third level, I marveled at the engineering and skill required to make those machines and parts. I met the people — machinery manufacturers, molders, engineers — who clearly lived and breathed for their work and the industry they served. They talked knowledgeably and passionately about cycle times, shot sizes, crystalline polymers, screenchangers and process control — making things. When they found out I was new? Their primary mission was to further my education, and they did so happily.

This passion was not trivial. As a 23-year-old, I had not, in the first couple months on the job, embraced plastics machinery and equipment as a dynamic and interesting field of work. In college, I had not pictured myself working for a plastics industry trade publication. Yet, there I was, standing in the Las Vegas Convention Center, experiencing full-on a microcosm of the best technology and the best people the plastics industry could offer, and it was suddenly very, very interesting. That experience colored and enhanced the work I did for PM&E from that day forward.

Fast forward to this month (more than 100 trade shows later for me) and the fourth iteration of CAMX, Sept. 11-14 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL, US. CAMX has become the largest composites trade show in the world’s largest composites market and is expected to draw more than 500 exhibitors and about 9,000 attendees. 

Like that first plastics show I attended in 1990, CAMX will be full of knowledgeable, passionate people, and like those I met at age 23, they will be eager to share what they know with anyone who will listen. However, what distinguishes the composites industry of today from the plastics industry I walked into in Las Vegas is the pace of change. Even in 1990, plastics manufacturing was mature, marked by incremental change and innovation. Composites, by contrast, are relatively immature, dynamic and susceptible to substantial change.

In such an environment, events like CAMX possess an elevated importance because they offer an opportunity for in-person interaction with the technologies and innovations now on offer, and with the people and companies who made them and, therefore, are leading composites change. CAMX offers a valuable person-to-person opportunity for all of us to gain a better understanding of where this industry is headed and how we can participate in the maturation and evolution of composites.

If you will be at CAMX, we hope to see you there. And if this is your first composites show, I encourage you to do as I did 27 years ago — ask a lot of questions; there will be no shortage of composites professionals ready and willing to answer them. And if you cannot be at CAMX this year, we will do the best we can to help you understand what you missed and where all of this dynamism is taking us.