CHICAGO - It was a year of records for the 2003 international Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigerating Exposition.

Although final numbers were not available at press time, preliminary estimates show the Jan. 27-29 event brought more than 58,000 visitors and exhibitors to the McCormick Place convention center, setting a new high for attendance. The show also set records for exhibit space used (400,000 sq. ft.), exhibitors from outside the U.S. (286), and first-time exhibitors (297).

Even before attendance estimates were released, officials from many companies were saying it was the best AHR Expo in years.

"This show could be the best in 40 years of participating," said Mike Milliron of Sunbury, Ohio-based Bry-Air Inc.

Milliron's comments were echoed by Mark Froning of Ovalformer, a North Carolina-based sheet metal machinery manufacturer.

"We've had a huge influx of people in our booth today and this is a great show so far," Froning said. "This is our best show in terms of reaching attendees from all over the world."

Many first-time exhibitors were equally enthusiastic.

"(The show) went very good for us," said Graham Smith of Attexor Inc., a Massachusetts-based manufacturer of clinching and stitch-folding equipment. "We seem to have gotten a lot of very good leads."

Many attendees were giving the show similarly high marks. Dave Teply, a contractor from East Dubuque, Ill., was in Chicago for his first AHR Expo in five years.

"It's great," Teply said, adding that he's seen an improvement in technology since his last visit. "(There's) A lot more commercial applications."

Here are just a few of the hundreds of products on display. Contact information for the companies is included at the end of this article.

Thermaflex brought in Dale Crook, the inventor of its "FlexTie" flexible duct-hanger strap, to help promote its products. Crook said the FlexTie allows contractors to hang flexible duct faster and more efficiently, and improves airflow by eliminating sags and kinks. The strap adjusts from 4- to 16-in. dia., and officials add that it can support duct without compressing the inner core or insulation jacket. Thermaflex was also showing its "FlexaBoot," a return-air sound boot designed to replace rectangular, internally lined sheet-metal boots.

Officials from Air-Duct Manufacturing Inc. were very excited about their new "SPIRAmir" self-sealing system for spiral ductwork. They say it offers 30% to 40% lower field-installation costs, saves time, ands allows contractors to handle more projects. The SPIRAmir system is especially well suited for projects where duct will be exposed: no seal or tape is visible.

Engel Industries was promoting several pieces of sheet-metal machinery, including its Standard Fold and Shear coil line, which combines production pf blanks from coil stock and is also capable of straightening, beading, bending and notching duct sections. Engel's M516-IIFS-C model with optional CEF comes with an equipped straightener, ring-type beader, shearing and bending station, notcher, dual-head cleat-edge roll-former and a PC with Engel's proprietary software.

The Engel Automation division was showing off its new plasma-cutting system. According to company officials, an all-aluminum carriage allows fast cornering and acceleration, while the PC control offers an optional touch screen for ease of use. The machine takes up minimum floor space, officials add. The company was also promoting the Lancer, an automatic parts feeder.

CertainTeed Corp. announced that its hvac/mechanical insulation products have been certified for low contaminant emissions by the Greenguard Environmental Institute. Greenguard is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group that independently tests and endorses building materials and home and office products as earth-friendly. CertainTeed's duct liner, wrap and board all meet the group's criteria.

CertainTeed also exhibited its "UltraDuct Gold" duct board, SoftTouch duct wrap and "FlameChek Plus 2" duct insulation.

Software maker DrawTech offered customized duct-drawing software. Company officials say the programs can be designed to draw to manufacturer and shop standards, create listings for purchase, and create charts on each drawing listing bills of materials. The company is currently developing programs that will work with many plasma-table manufacturers.

Minneapolis-based Sheet Metal Connectors Inc. was promoting its E-Z Flange with Barrel Clamp, which company officials say saves field labor with virtually no leakage at the transverse connection. Also on display were the company's rectangular duct and fittings, high-efficiency takeoff collars and E-Z Tap takeoff collars.

Ductmate Industries Inc. was heavily promoting two new mechanical system hanger products: the "EZ-Lock" and "Clutcher." The EZ-Lock is an extremely strong wire rope beam clamp that company officials say saves labor by eliminating the need to pre-cut wire. It has a locking nut for fast and easy adjustments, and means contractors won't need to use heavy threaded rod.

The company's other new product, the Clutcher, allows items to be hung at up to a 60-degree angle. A lightweight design reduces the risk on on-site accidents, officials say. A tapered bore design makes installation quicker, and hanging heights can be adjusted by hand.

Attexor Inc. was displaying its "Spot Clinch" model 0607 AD. It offers two-stroke clinching. The material to be joined is first deformed inside the die. Then the joint is created through a squeezing between the punch and anvil outside of the die. Company officials say it results in a high-quality joint.

Norlok Technology Inc. President Quinn Smith was happy to demonstrate the Econolok 18, an air-powered clinching machine with a solid-steel frame and 18-in. throat. The machine is designed to fasten two-ply material together. It has a special lower arm designed for most standard applications. Company officials say it can fasten mild steel, aluminum, brass, cooper and other materials from 16- to 30-gauge thick. The press is powered by a pneumatic "WAMP" multistack air diaphragm unit, which provides a fast, low-impact, clinching stroke.

Company officials also announced that Norlok's Medium Duty Watson Portable Machine, an air-over-oil-powered clincher, now comes in a design one-half the size and weight of the previous model, yet offering al the performance.

Plasma Automation Inc. was showing off the Vicon DL8000 system, which it says is among the most affordable and accurate systems on the market. Simply enter your job data once using the Vicon Hvac Cutting Software, and the system creates two distinct geometries - one for the sheet metal and another for the duct liner. The software's "Super-Nest" feature utilizes every square inch of space, eliminating waste, officials say.

The Sonic Vent, a linear vent diffuser, was the newest product from DuctSox. Company officials say it offers a more cost-effective, quieter and aesthetic fabric-duct system. It consists of 3/16-in. dia. perforations that run lengthwise of the company's Comfort-Flow fabric models in an infinite number of patterns. Directional airflow capabilities are more than 40 ft. Each micro-orifice pattern is custom-engineered for airflow, sound and static pressure, according to the company.

American Metal Products displayed its Type B gas vent that uses a double wall of metal pipe for insulation and safety. According to the company, the inner pipe of reflecting aluminum heats quickly, containing the warm flue gases inside. The air space between the inner and outer pipes provides insulation against heat loss to keep the warmer flue gases on the rise.

Carol and Jim Sojka, of Banner Sales Co. Inc., exhibited their laser and thermal transfer labels, available in permanent and removable adhesive styles. Also displayed were nylon "Sure-Loc" bushings, damper clips, and the company's "ConducClamp," fitted for both 1/2- and 3/4-in. conduit, and "Condu-Mate" for internal tie rod reinforcement.

John Glebas of Shaw Aero Development Inc., demonstrated the "Strapmaster" that makes brackets and hangers right on the job site. The tool cuts and bends steel rod, and cuts, bends, twists, and punches holes in steel strapping for brackets, and hangers. The Model A has a 5-ton capacity and cuts steel strap up to 3/16 in., and the Model B has a 7.5-ton capacity and cuts steel strap up to 13/32-in. dia.

Hamlin Sheet Metal Co. Inc. displayed "The Wedge," its self-sealing round-duct-connector system that the company said minimizes the risk of air leakage within an operating duct system. The Wedge's design allows for gasket replacement in the field. The company also exhibited grilles that fit directly on spiral duct, without the need for a grille box. Sizes range from 4- to 12 in. wide and 8- to 28-in. long.

McGill AirFlow Corp. showed its moveable quick-connect duct system for dust-collection and material-handling applications. Designed to quickly assemble and disassemble to meet changing requirements, the system is comprised of round sheet-metal duct with standard roll-lipped or flanged ends, and is supplied in standard and heavy-gauge metal.

Duro Dyne introduced its sheet metal pin spotters. The RH Mach II features digital circuit function display, one-adjustment controls for weld and dwell times, 18-gauge capacity with 2-in. pins, the "Posi-feed" weld pin track release system, and a "Flexlink" wire harness and air line guide.

The FG Mach I and II feature two variations: standard-gauge capacity with the Mach I, and high-power, 18-ga. capacity with 2-inch pins with the Mach II. A high-low switch adjusts for gauge thickness and/or voltage variances. The models also offer easy access to the component case, the company says, and a "sleek, streamlined frame design with 5-ft. throat."

Gary Metal Mfg. LLC exhibited its "ZIPP-R" air-distribution products, including pipe and fittings, elbows, insulated flex duct, wall stack and fittings, sheet slitters, trunk line duct, duct fittings, pipe connectors, sleeve insulation, fire dampers, takeoffs, louvers, dampers, elbows, tees, plenums, and ventilators. The company also offers flexible duct systems.

The Pate Co. said its pipe-curb assembly is designed to permanently seal multiple pipes that penetrate any roof. The unit needs only one roof opening, is leakproof, and is durable under all weather conditions, according to the company. The assembly includes roof curb, cap, and various boots for pipes from 3/8-in. to 10-in. O.D., and adjustable stainless steel clamps.

Thybar Corp. displayed its "Vibro-Mate" rooftop unit retrofit system, which is a combination of its "Vibro-Curb" and "Retro-Mate." According to the company, the product allows installers to replace a standard roof curb with vibration isolation without disturbing the existing roof. Full-height flexed-duct connections are already installed, and it is designed to be used with the rooftop unit manufacturer's roof curb.

Mon-Eco Industries Inc. exhibited its adhesives and sealants for air handling systems. Included was the 22-18 Eco-Canister system, a solvent-based adhesive in a portable canister for use in sheet metal shops. It is suitable for bonding fiberglass to metal, plastics, and foils. A specially designed gun and hose assembly makes spraying easy, according to the company. Coverage is approximately 75- to 100-sq.-ft. per pound.

Z-Flex displayed its Z-Vent IV self-sealing gas vent system that features connections with gaskets, so no sealant is required. According to the company, the Z-Vent IV has the highest pressure rating in the industry, that is more than five times the industry standard, and it is the only metallic special gas vent that can be cut to length on-site. Pipe is available from 6- to 10-in.

Klaus Mueller, president of Tormec AG of Dietikon, Switzerland, didn't bring his entire Tormec Segto segment-cutting machine to the show, but he demonstrated its capabilities with the control panel and a video. The Segto cuts up to five elbow segments in one pass from sheets of bright, galvanized, and stainless steel. The diameter of the elbow can range from 5 to 40 in., with a maximum angle of 90 degrees. The speed of the feed, which can be handled by a single operator, ranges from 6 to 26 ft. per minute.

The "Layoutcart" allows sheet metal installers to pinpoint hanger locations using multiple lasers and a computerized distance tracking system. The locations are highlighted using an expandable pole with an attached paint marker. No ladders are needed until you're ready to install the hangers. Layoutcart is manufactured by L.C. Enterprises, Hialeah, Fla.

Roof Products Inc. manufactures a line of roof curbs, expansion joints, equipment supports, adapters, "Ice Deflectors," and any type of penetration for new or retrofit projects. It also supplies skylights, smoke vents, and roof hatches. According to the company, the RPI Ice Deflector is ideal for TV stations, airports, and cellular installations to protect roof-mounted equipment from flying ice.

Vent Products Co. Inc. displayed its 5000 series of "Dyn-O-Seal" low-leakage standard and heavy-duty air control dampers with either adjacent blades that rotate in opposite directions, or parallel blades that rotate in the same direction. According to the company, opposed blade action offers better air control because of its more linear operating characteristics. It said parallel action is for when two-position operation is required, and for fast response.

Mannix Testing & Measurement displayed humidity and temperature instruments, wireless and temperature instruments, digital and analog thermometers, airflow instruments, digital multimeters, amp clamps, capacitor testers, electrical testers, and specialty and safety instruments.

Lewis & Lambert LLLP displayed "Vibrasonics" acoustical/thermal panels with high absorption characteristics and high transmission loss, according to the company. Also exhibited were spiral pipe and water-based duct sealant.

Cain Manufacturing Co. Inc. displayed flexible duct connectors for institutional, factory, office, or residential use. The connectors are already assembled with 24- or 28-gauge sheet metal permanently secured to fabric with Cain "Flex-Loc" or optional "S-Loc" seam locks. The duct connectors are produced in continuous coils 50-, 100-, or 150-ft. long.

Design Polymerics displayed solvent-based spray adhesive that is fast-drying, non-flammable, and pressure sensitive, and supplied in a portable spray system. According to the company, the insulation adhesive is resistant to oxidation and moisture.

AccuDuct Manufacturing exhibited its "AccuFlange" round and oval duct connection systems. According to the company, the oval AccuFlange installs 40% faster than four-bolt rectangle duct systems, and the double-wall AccuFlange saves 50% in field labor by eliminating slip joints.

Hart & Cooley Inc. exhibited its new line of "REZZIN" plastic registers constructed of lightweight polymer materials that can withstand a harsh environment. The line is available in a three-way deflection ceiling diffuser, double-deflection sidewall diffuser, two-way floor register, modular core T-bar, and louvered T-Bar.

Also displayed were spiral diffusers that can be directly mounted to round metal ductwork. According to the company, the custom radius design ensures an airtight seal. The diffusers are available in single- or double-deflection vanes, with a slot-style face front.

Hart & Cooley recently introduced a new flexible Type B gas vent connection system for single- and double-wall applications. The connector compresses, if needed, to fit the space, so there is no need to cut it to size.

WennSoft Inc. promoted its Service Management Series software and services that offer service call management, service dispatch, graphical scheduling, Microsoft MapPoint integration, invoicing, maintenance contract management, a quoting module, maintenance quotes, paging modules, document management, TimeTrack labor-tracking module, mobile computing, an eCustomer portal, and a multicurrency management module.

EastCoast CAD/CAM exhibited plasma-cutting tables and explained its software and services to automate duct creation. The company said its EC series of plasma-cutting machines was designed for the hvac industry, using Thompson 60-case linear support rails, Thompson Super Smart Ball Bushing Pillow Block Bearings, and a heavy-duty rack and pinion drive system. The Windows 2000 electronic controller has an optional touch screen. EC-Maker software offers a menu of rectangular, round, and oval fittings, and it integrates fully with EC-CAD.

Johns-Manville Corp. demonstrated how its "Spiracoustic Plus" system of round liner-board and preformed insulation snaps into place with minimal use of adhesives and fasteners. According to the company, Spiracoustic meets or exceeds the acoustical and thermal performance of double-wall perforated metal inner cores while cutting fabrication time and reducing sheet metal cost by up to 50%.

The company said its new mat-faced "Micro-Aire" fiberglass duct board could withstand air velocities up to 5,000 fpm without any sign of damage or erosion. The mat also increases the board's resistance to damage during handling, fabrication, or installation.

Roto-Die Inc. displayed its hydraulic bender that the company says is four precision forming tools in one. By shifting the selection lever, one operator can perform all basic sheet metal forming operations without changing a die. The Roto-Die hydraulic bender forms full- length ducts, gravel stops, standing lock seams, flashing and hemming operations.

Tru-Flex Metal Hose Corp. explained its flexible hose lines, including the "Air Flex Pipe," flexible stainless steel hose designed to carry an air supply to a work location. It can be used in place of black pipe and pipe fittings or specialty plastics used for compressed air lines. It can be bent by hand and installed around corners.

Semco Inc. has formed a partnership with Alistagen Corp. that gives Semco exclusive rights to market a new version of the "Caliwel" antimicrobial surface coating designed for the interior surfaces of hvac systems. Semco's spiral duct and fitting products will be available this year with a factory-applied coating of "Caliwel HVAC with BNA," upon approval from the U.S. Environmental protection Agency. Semco said its spiral duct and fittings with BNA would help prevent mold and mildew growth.

Broan-NuTone LLC added an energy recovery ventilator to its GuardianPlus line of IAQ products. The ERV transfers both latent and sensible energy from opposing airstreams, conditioning incoming air and minimizing incoming humidity. Incoming fresh air is heated or cooled by the home's exhausted air, cutting energy costs. The fresh air is then sent through a HEPA filtration system and distributed throughout the house. Based on 15 cfm, one unit can accommodate a home with up to six bedrooms, the company said.

Arzel Zoning Technology Inc. demonstrated how quickly its "EzySlide" dampers can be installed by holding a contest with show attendees. The wireless, motorless dampers are powered by low-pressure air supplied by an industrial mini-pump contained inside a control panel. The company also has a new ERA EzySlide damper with a lower profile for low ceiling clearance and a 25% faster response time.

Testo Inc. displayed its new models of electronic manifolds. The Model 560 with three-way valve bank can be used for up to 38 individual refrigerants and can exchange data with a PC. The ambient temperature is recorded during vacuum measurement either by the internal sensor or an external connectable temperature meter. The unit can retain customers' previous readings with a 256K internal memory.

Berner International Corp. displayed its new E-Zone air door that the company says offers affordable protection from unwanted contaminants. The unit has a 1/5-hp direct-drive motor, factory-installed switch, aluminum directional vanes, and aluminum cross-flow blower wheels.

Metal-Fab Inc. announced a new UL classification for its Series 4G grease duct, which the company said makes it the only factory-built, integral-chase grease duct with a 0-in. clearance and two-hour fire rating. When installed with an approved fire stop, the need for an additional enclosure is eliminated, Metal-Fab officials said.

A new "SureGrip" vent support plate supports B-Vent where it penetrates floors and ceilings, eliminating cutting, bending, and fitting sheet metal to build vent supports.

Ovalformer LLC exhibited its many sheet metal-forming machines. Highlighting the display was the prototype of a single machine that can create oval duct from rolled sheet metal. Formerly, oval duct was a two-stage process that began with round duct. The company said the new machine would be available in the fall.

Other machines displayed included the "Perfpress," which fits between the uncoiler and the Spiralformer machine chassis. The Perfpress perforates spiral duct to eliminate the need for diffuser grilles. The "Ovalroller" is a pinch roll system that forms gores for flat oval or round fittings. It can be used with aluminum, steel, galvanized steel, stainless steel, and copper up to 16 gauge.