CHICAGO — From Nov. 11 to 14 there was more punching, pulling and roll(form)ing at McCormick Place South than at the nearby House of Blues on a Saturday night. But such is the case every time FabTech comes to town.

North America’s biggest annual metal forming and fabrication event is a mainstay of the Windy City, returning to the massive McCormick Place convention complex every two years. The show has a large loyal following, who look forward to the crowded aisles of continuously running machinery and the cacophony they create.

This year, however, attendance fell below expectations. Event sponsors the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) and the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) pegged the official attendance at 19,685 — more than last year’s Cleveland show, but far below the 32,000 originally anticipated. Sunday was a particularly slow day, which many people attributed to the Chicago Bears home football game that afternoon. The game made nearby parking a nightmare and may have proved an irresistible distraction.

Exhibitors had mixed reviews about the show, which not surprisingly, were tied to the number of booth visitors and sales they made on the show floor. While “So far, it hasn’t been worth our being here,” was one company representative’s dour response, several others said that although less people were visiting their booth, those that did were very interested in buying.

“The people that have been here are very serious about our products,” said Dean Phillips, Tennsmith Inc. sales manager. The sheet metal machinery manufacturer was showing off the Titan 175, part of the company’s new line of press brakes. Also on display was the model PN25, part of the company’s line of hydraulic powered notchers, which now come in expanded sizes.

Keith Kincy, process engineer with Republic Builders Products, McKinzie, Tenn., takes a closer look at the B/K Supermill-Dahlstrom rollformer at the large Formtek display.

Serious shoppers

Phillips’ comments were echoed by Mike Linehan, marketing manager for Lincoln Electric Co. “Last year, we got a lot more traffic, but they were not good leads,” Linehan said. “This year, we have less traffic, but the leads are more qualified.” Lincoln Electric had a large display, showing several of the company’s latest welding products, including stick, MIG and TIG welders, in action.

Heather Clemmett, inside sales manager for Advance Cutting Systems, also noted the smaller crowds, but said, “We did get some orders from the show,” adding it was well worth the trip from Alabama to attend.

Advance Cutting Systems’ booth featured the company’s Precision PM2012 plasma cutting system and its line of software for duct design, fabrication, drafting and estimating.

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) products also had a significant presence at the show. United Air Specialists Inc. (UAS) was showing its Dust-Hog“ line of dust containment systems for industrial applications. Air Quality Engineering of Minneapolis showed its air filtration systems. Company ceo Heidi Oas said she is seeing a trend towards general ambient background capture in factories and the company’s new models reflect that.

Trumpf Inc. held a press conference to introduce three new products: the Trumpf Qualifier, a light/laser measuring machine; the C 60 Press Brake; and the Trumatic 5000 Rotation (TC 5000 R) high speed punching machine, which company officials said has one of the shortest tool set up times in the industry.

If some exhibitors were grumbling a bit, there didn’t seem to be many complaints from the contractors in attendance. “Very interesting, very interesting,” said Charlie Brenner, of Mountain Top, Penn. This was Brenner’s first FabTech. He said he was checking out “a little bit of everything,” but was especially interested in the laser cutting systems and fabrication products.

Visitors also had the opportunity to attend more than 40 workshops. Topics included roll forming, lean manufacturing, welding, laser cutting, cost estimating and more.

FabTech 2002 will be Oct. 29-31 at the I-X Center in Cleveland.