IMTS 2012's Machine Builders Take Over Chicago

Gasp! Just coming up for air from under a veritable ice shelf of content and machine builder input at the IMTS 2012 show at McCormick Place in Chicago this past week. Let me catch my breath! Whew!

Anyway, I personally visited 56 individuals at 32 different machine tool and supporting equipment makers at the event, which filled all four halls and reported registered attendance of about 100,000 visitors for Sept. 10-15. That’s pretty impressive for a tradeshow in this Internet-obsessed era. Of course, I measured the show’s success by the fact the main parking garage was full to the top by 9 a.m., and so I had some serious walking to do before even reaching the show.

Well, I first observed that the traditional IMTS hot-air balloon at the entrance to McCormick Place seemed to be having some trouble staying up and tethered. After that, I ventured in and got lost in many of IMTS 2012’s supermarket-sized exhibits. Calling these venues “booths” is like calling Niagara Falls a babbling brook.

Anyway, I first visited with Mazak, Okuma and several other builders that are linking up their machining centers with MTConnect, which is an open, royalty-free standard for increasing communication and interoperability between devices and software applications. I even talked to an Okuma end user, Joel Neidig of Itamco, who first reported that his job shop firm uses its machines to make parts.

However, he added that Itamco has also developed an iPhone app, known as iBlue, which is an industrial Bluetooth transmitter that lets users wirelessly acquire, record, and share information—such as energy consumption, micrometer readings and material hardness—by connecting to their PCs or smart phones. In fact, both Okuma and Mazak were using Itamco’s iBlue and MTConnect to link to machines in their exhibits. It seems pretty ironic that a machine end user could turn around and supply a software solution to its builder.

Next, while checking out DMG Mori Seiki’s exhibit, I ran across what looked like a small pick-and-place robot, but was actually Renishaw’s Equator 300 three-axis, flexible gauging system. Each axis has its own feedback scale for checking dimensional characteristics, and so it can hang out next to machining centers and quickly report that produced parts are up to spec without sending them to a lab.

Needless to say, I’m going to include a bunch of this input in my “Connected Machine” cover article in the November issue of Control Design. More later.

Jim Montague is the executive editor for Control, Control Design and Industrial Networking. Email him at jmontague@putman.net or check out his Google+ profile.