CHICAGO - 2007 was a pretty good year for Fabtech. The Nov. 11-14 trade show at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention facility drew 31,000 attendees - 4,000 more than the optimistic numbers organizers were predicting.

Total exhibit space was 461,627 square feet - less than the 475,000 square feet expected, but still more than the last Chicago Fabtech in 2005.

"We have already received so much positive feedback about this year's show from both exhibitors and attendees," said Jerry Shankel, president and CEO of the Fabricators and Manufacturers Association, one of the event's organizers and sponsors. "(Exhibitors) have been telling us how pleased they are with the quantity and quality of attendees who visited their booth."

The addition of American Welding Society members has boosted attendance and exhibitors. In 2006, the fabricators association and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers made the welding group a show sponsor, making its 50,000 members possible attendees.

"We are extremely proud of the continued growth of the combined Fabtech International and AWS Welding Show," said society Executive Director Ray Shook. "Welding plays a critical role in the manufacturing sector and this show continues to be an important part of the welding industry."

Organizers said 31,000 people attended the 2007 Fabtech show.

Seminars popular

Organizers were also pleased with the attendance at the show’s educational seminars, which numbered more than 100 this year. Topics included “lean” manufacturing, coil processing and the use of press brakes.

“The educational sessions drew a record number of participants, with more than a thousand professionals choosing to attend more sessions than in the past,” said Mark C. Tomlinson, SME executive director. “This clearly shows that the work force is clamoring for information that will advance personal careers, increase profits for companies and improve (the) productivity of the manufacturing industry.”

Among the well-attended sessions was the Nov. 12 leadership summit, “Addressing the Shortage of Skilled Workers in U.S. Manufacturing.” Organizers brought local and national experts in job development to talk about what they’re doing to tackle the problem.

David Hanson, a commissioner with the city of Chicago’s work force development office, oversees a $30 million budget. He said the city has been working to change trade school curriculums to meet the needs of manufacturers, and has spent $1.5 million so far on the cause.

Another speaker, Anthony Swoope, an administrator in the U.S. Department of Labor’s apprentice training office, said he owes his career to vocational training courses. A former sheet metal worker, he said his training quickly taught him sheet metal was not low-skilled labor.

“I found very quickly it’s an art,” Swoope said. “And with that art comes a lot of skill.”

The Labor Department spends $16 billion annually on work force development, he said, adding that there are 465,000 people working as apprentices nationwide.

Perry Lunde of Shop Data Systems demonstrates the company’s Parts II Plus automatic-nesting software.

Reaching out

Jim Reeb, a research and development director at Peoria, Ill.-based construction equipment maker Caterpillar, told show attendees they need do more to change the image of manufacturing and get young people interested in such work.

“The image of manufacturing, especially welding, is a dark, dirty occupation,” Reeb said.

He told the audience, many of whom acknowledged they didn’t want their children to go into manufacturing, that they were part of “the problem.”

He cited statistics that say 50 percent of those who enter college eventually drop out. These people are ideal candidates for manufacturing careers, Reeb said. Getting more of them interested in the field could end the perpetual worker shortage, he added.

“Get them into your factories,” Reeb said, urging the industry to get smarter at community public relations work. “You really need to promote it.”

He also urged manufacturers to do more to include women and minorities in outreach programs.

“You’ve got to have an inclusive culture. You need to embrace people from all walks of life,” Reeb said.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail

Sidebar - Lots of new products on display

Fabtech filled two halls of Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center with plenty of new products. Since the show covered the full range of metal forming and fabricating, not everything was aimed at sheet metal contractors, but there was plenty that was for them

Here are a few.

Excalibur Tools debuted the third generation of its sheet metal-cutting tools. A new patent-pending design improves material flow, officials say. It offers fast cutting - up to a foot per second - and only requires one hand to operate. It cuts in a straight line as well as through curves.

MultiCam was showing its 1000 Series computer-numeric-controlled plasma table. It features a 60- by 120-inch processing area and runs with the Hypertherm equipment. It has dual drives, a welded steel base, engineered aluminum extrusion frame and 25-millimeter bearings.

New filter technology was on display from United Air Specialists Inc. Its advanced nano-fiber filtration for duct-collection cartridge filters makes UAS filters last twice as long as cellulose and “commodity” filters, company officials say. The need to change filters less frequently cuts costs and saves energy, they add.

MTC Software showed its Design2Fab 3-D sheet metal layout and estimating software. Designed to reduce the time needed to lay out fittings, it helps contractors increase profits by cutting design time and computes labor and equipment needs automatically.

Plasma equipment maker Hypertherm Inc. was showing the newest version of the 1250, a portable plasma cutter and part of the company’s Powermax series. It offers the latest power supply and torch technology and cuts faster than others’ equipment, company officials say. Auto-voltage circuitry adjusts to any input from 200 to 600 volts.

Shop Data Systems showed off its Parts II Plus, software it says has “everything you need for parts cutting.” It includes a built-in drawing tool and advanced nesting to minimize materials usage and parts processing. The software includes a library of commonly used shapes, such as flanges.

Plasma cutting machinery maker Kaliburn promoted the Spirit400a and the Spirit275a. The 400a, scheduled to debut this year, is a 400-amp plasma cutter model that the company says offers 80 kilowatts of “precision plasma-cutting muscle.” The 275a, currently available, is fully automatic and has high-amperage precision, high-current density and a long consumable life.