Two big questions about the recent NPE show in Chicago have now been answered.

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Instead of machines, “Smart Boards” and live video feeds of in-plant demonstrations were the key to Milacron’s new-style exhibit.

Two big questions about the recent NPE show in Chicago have now been answered. Number one: Would it be a successful show? The answer appears to be yes. Although attendance was only 63,000, down 30% from the 90,000 total at NPE 2000, the overwhelming majority of exhibitors said they were well satisfied with the number of serious customers and “real decision-makers” who came to their booths. A handful said this was their best show ever. Visitors seemed to be in a buying mood—but looking less for products than for “solutions,” by which I mean advanced technologies to help them keep up with global competition. Crowds gravitated less to machines molding giveaways and more to those demonstrating novel techniques.

The second question: Is it time for a new approach to plastics trade shows? Again, I think the answer is yes. More exhibitors decided to show off ideas rather than just products. For instance, Bayer’s Innovation Dome used videos and computers to present future technologies and applications. Some 125 visitors used Bayer’s electronic digitizer tablets to sketch out their own ideas for new plastic products.

Machinery giant Milacron opted to leave the heavy hardware at home. Instead visitors saw live, interactive videos of processing demonstrations and sat down for one-on-one discussions with big-name processing experts. President and COO Harold Faig told me the move was not conceived as a cost-cutting effort. The goal was to show processors something more important than a hunk of iron. He wanted to put them face to face with the “solutions” they were looking for.