This month’s show in Chicago was my tenth NPE, and it was by far the most impressive and enjoyable.

This month’s show in Chicago was my tenth NPE, and it was by far the most impressive and enjoyable. Exhibit space was more than 12% larger than in 1997; the number of exhibitors (2014) was up almost 17%; and attendance rose more than 9% to 90,142. This was also the most international NPE ever. One-fourth of the exhibitors came from outside the U.S., and international attendance rose 43% from ’97. But it wasn’t just size that impressed. Within five minutes of entering the McCormick Place exhibit complex, I sensed this event would set a new standard for U.S. plastics shows. It looked snazzier. The halls felt brighter and airier. The exhibits looked classier and more exciting.

Injection molding exhibits emphasized technical inventiveness. Who would have guessed that the largest machine at the show (1550 tons) would be all-electric? Or that the new MuCell microcellular foam process would show up in half a dozen booths? Multi-material and gas-assist molding were everywhere, along with in-mold decorating and in-mold lamination. Even water injection made its debut.

Dot-commerce added a new flavor to this NPE. More than two dozen exhibitors showed off new on-line exchanges for materials, machinery, employment, and manufacturing services. The Internet was also a bigger presence in on-line databanks, browser-accessible CAD and CIM software, and even Web-enabled machine controls.

Materials suppliers appeared to reassert themselves at the show after years of declining participation. Their numbers were up 7%, and they did a better job of calling attention to their greatest strength as incubators of new applications for plastics.