CHICAGO - A day at Fabtech isn't for the timid or those sensitive to sound. Fabtech is loud. And not just a little vociferous, mind you, but thunderously and deafeningly loud.
It whirls, punches, thuds, sparks and stomps, turning McCormick Place convention center into a metal-processing factory for four days.
The air is a little acrid and smoky. Visitors get used to yelling when they talk.
"How's the show?"
"How's the show?"
Even with the temporary hearing loss, many attendees wouldn't have it any other way. Close to 18,000 of them came to Chicago for this year's Fabtech International, one of the largest metal-forming and fabricating events in the world. There were more than 670 exhibitors at the Nov. 16-19 event, which is held in Chicago and Cleveland in alternating years. This was the first Chicago show since 2001.
"I never go to Fabtech that something good doesn't come out of it," said Ed Flag, a mechanical engineer with SMI Joist, a Hope, Ark.-based manufacturer of steel joists and girders. "I'm always impressed with the wide variety of ideas I see from various manufacturers that we can put to use."
In addition to the trade show, organizers the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association International and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers sponsored 34 educational seminars on topics such as selecting machinery and customer loyalty.
Breaking rulesOne such session was "Breaking All the Rules: A World-Class Approach to People" on Nov. 18.
Even in a recession, when the pool of potential employees grows, it's still hard to find good workers, according to many business owners. During "Breaking All the Rules," lean-manufacturing expert Glenn Jensen of Technical Change Associates Inc. gave attendees suggestions on how they could attract better employees and improve those already on the payroll.
Jensen asked the audience what they blamed for the shortage of quality workers.
"Their parents really force them to go to college - it's not even a choice of the child," said Sharon Buck, one of the owners of an Iowa-based steel company.
Another attendee said too many workers in his company are "CAVE" people - Citizens Against Virtually Everything.
· Select people not just on experience and intelligence, but talent.
"Talents are naturally reoccurring thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Talents are what you are naturally good at," Jensen told the audience. "Talents often show up in the form of habits. Talents are different than skills and experience."
To demonstrate his point about talent, Jensen showed four word puzzles to the audience. Some people, Jensen said, can easily figure them out, while others will struggle.
"You've got to figure out what talents you need for your job and go after those," he said.
· Instead of defining exactly what someone's job should be and how they should do it, be flexible.
"We always teach people, step by step by step, what they have to do in their jobs. The best managers said, "No. You're adults" and you can figure out the best way to do your job, Jensen said. "We get so focused on how to do things, we forget to tell them what." And if you don't set expectations, you won't be satisfied and the employee won't be happy, he added.
· Motivate people by focusing on their strengths - not their flaws.
· Instead of helping people get promoted until they become incompetent - the Peter Principle - help them find the right job and excel at it.
"I like to think of selecting employees like fishing," Jensen said, adding that managers need to be more selective in what they draw from the talent pool.
"You figure out exactly what you're after. Most of us forget to say what we're after. We say, ‘Go get an engineer.' "
Even if you have good hiring practices in place, Jensen said your company might still not be "world-class." Here are eight questions Jensen said managers should ask themselves (and their workers) to find out if their company measures up:
· Do employees know what is expected of them?
· Are the right tools available to help them do their jobs?
· Do they have the opportunity to do their best every day?
· In the last week, have any employees been recognized for doing good work? Jensen said employees need regular feedback: "That's why that annual review is just a piece of garbage."
· Do supervisors seem to care about their employees as a person?
· Does the opinion of employees matter in the way the company is run?
· Does each job seem important to the company's mission?
· In the last six months, have managers discussed career development with their employees?
More than 250 products debut at show, setting a record There was more than 302,000 square feet of product displays at this year's Fabtech, including 250 new products - a record for the show.
Although attendance itself was not a record, dropping from 19,627 in 2001 (the last year Fabtech was held in Chicago) to 17,931, many exhibitors said they were happy, adding they were still reaching the contacts that make the expense of bringing equipment and staffs to the trade show worthwhile.
"Best show in four years was the common theme from exhibitors," said Mark Hoper, show manager for the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association International, one of Fabtech's sponsors.
Exhibitor Bob Wolbrink of Eaton Leonard, a Vista, Calif.-based maker of tube formers, was very happy about the contacts he made at the show.
"We visited a customer on Monday - from a company we hadn't previously known about - and by the following week he'd followed up by phone and traveled to our plant for more in-depth discussions," Wolbrink said. "We've already received his letter of intent and will turn this contract into a sale."
Advanced Fabricating Machinery's Tim Jancosko echoed Wolbrink's comments. "Fabtech sets the pace for the metal-forming and fabricating industry," he said. "It provides us with the ideal opportunity to meet with customers and keep abreast of new industry developments at the same time."
While many of Fabtech's exhibitors do not make products for the HVAC market, there's always plenty of new products of interest to sheet-metal contractors. Among those on display:
Trumpf Inc. had several product booths and was promoting a number of new items, including the TKA 500-0, a deburring tool. According to company officials, the tool can chamfer mild steel quickly and easily. It cuts 45-degree angles and radii edges. Also introduced: the Bendmaster, an automated system for press brakes that Trumpf says is flexible and fast.
Attexor Inc. displayed its new line of punch and die sets designed for use with its Mega and Kombi lines of clinching tools. Company officials say the sets can easily clinch heavy-gauge materials.
AMS announced upgrades to its XL200 Series controller. It now has a 28-percent faster CPU and a brighter LCD screen. RAM and flash memory has also been improved.
Hypertherm Inc. showed off its HyPerformance Plasma system and the patent-pending FAST laser-cutting heads. The HyPerformance Plasma is a mechanized metal-cutting system that uses Hypertherm's HyDefinition system to reduce dross and increase speed and consumable life.
FAST or Flow Accelerated Screen Technology laser heads deliver up to a 20 percent increase in cut speed over standard CO2 laser heads on plate steel, according to company officials.
Spiral-Helix Inc. was promoting its Magnum and Magnum Plus line of stitch welders. According to Spiral-Helix, the machines' recyclable copper-wire electrodes will not burn galvanized steel, which means contractors won't have to waste time sealing or painting. The machines are capable of welding up to 40 feet per minute, and no prior welding experience is required, officials say.
Iowa Precision was showing off its EconoSlear and Slear1 light- and medium-duty coil-blanking systems. The Slear system gives contractors the ability to purchase coil stock instead of precut sheets, lowering materials costs.
Roto-Die said it now offers a 20-gauge-capacity open-end cleat bender.
Advanced Fabricating Machinery introduced the Transfluid TB 650, a compact, single-axis rotary-draw bender, a machine it says is ideal for small fabrication shops. The company also showed several additions to its Soco line of bending equipment.