The latest news in manufacturing reveals a slow recovery from the downturn experienced during the past two years. However, if attendance numbers for IMTS 2002 are an indicator, it is a tentative recovery.

According to recently released numbers, slightly more than 85,000 individuals, including exhibitors, attended IMTS 2002 in Chicago from Sept. 4 to 11. This was a 22% decrease in attendance from IMTS 2000, the last time the show was held.

However, despite less than expected show attendance, suppliers kept fairly busy during the event. After a slow start on Sept. 4, those in the Quality Pavilion saw fairly consistent traffic. Most exhibitors reported they were happy with the caliber of attendees, and as a result, many reported selling products right off the floor. A walk around the show floor revealed many "Sold" signs on equipment. Is this is a trend that will continue?

"We have a lot of customers who are asking for bids, agreeing to what we can provide, but are holding off on placing the order," says one supplier. He says the people he speaks with have the money, but there is still caution in actually cutting a purchase order. However, this is a better trend than what many suppliers said they experienced earlier this year.

"Anyone who tells you they have been having a good year is lying," says one supplier of measurement tools. Many other suppliers agreed but add they are continuing to invest in new product offerings. More than a few came to IMTS with new products, including new hardness testers, dial indicators, video measurement systems and software.

Still other measurement tool, software and service suppliers came with products released at Quality Expo Detroit in June, using IMTS 2002 as an opportunity to demonstrate those products to a machining and metalworking audience.

As the show saw fewer attendees than two years ago, the conference portion also saw a downturn. Scheduled for Sept. 4 to 10, conference attendance decreased nearly 29%, from 630 in 2000 to almost 450 in 2002. Despite the decrease, the topics on lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, supply chain, job shops and machining technologies created a great deal of interest. In all, more than 182 speakers were scheduled for 66 sessions and workshops. Individual tracks focused on machining, grinding and abrasives, tooling, quality, job shops and manufacturing strategies.