At the beginning of September, I attended the Syndicat International Du Décolletage in Bern, Switzerland. The Syndicat, or S.I.D. Congress, is a conference that brings together precision parts manufacturing organizations from the U.S., Switzerland, France, Spain, Germany, Sweden, and Ireland. It was a week of mingling, fondue-dipping, and touring impressive Swiss shops and prominent machine tool builders like Pfiffner and Tornos.
As a technical member of the Precision Machined Parts Association (PMPA), I was grateful to receive an invitation. I often feel like a little bit of an oddball at PMPA events because I’m not a manufacturer and I’m not a new equipment distributor, yet I still feel like I belong to that community from years of writing for TMW and selling used equipment for Graff-Pinkert. I don’t feel like I’m a true member of the PMPA fraternity, but that’s perfectly fine because I feel respected by the members, and it seems like they enjoy having me around — usually, at least.
My goals for the week in Switzerland were to get to know my international machining industry peers and soak up as much knowledge from them as possible. Of course, I wouldn’t have minded selling them a machine or two as well. The amount I learned and the people I met that week far exceeded my expectations, easily justifying the time and money for the trip. And as I often find at these type of gatherings, the best moments occurred during the unofficial itinerary — the nauseating bus rides through the Alps, sharing a fondue pot, or wandering off from the guided tours to pursue personal discussions.
The first night at dinner was rather memorable. We first mingled over hors d’oeuvres, primarily chicken on sticks for some reason. I talked mainly to German and Swiss shop owners. They queried me about the upcoming Presidential election, about which I told them I was undecided. I asked them what they thought of our current President, and they were generally pretty positive about him. Wow, I thought — wouldn’t find too many perspectives like these among typical TMW readers.
After the chicken skewers, I sat down for dinner at a table comprised entirely of Americans, most of whom I knew from past PMPA events. Soon after sitting down, whad’ya know — someone popped the question, “So Noah, what do you think of the upcoming election?” I gave my honest opinion, that I was undecided.
There was a different reaction than that of the Germans. I may just as well have been a 22-year-old OSHA inspector with the amount of anger this statement triggered. Basically, I was told that I was dishonoring my country and my family to even fathom voting for Obama. This wasn’t what I came to Bern for, I thought. I came to the conference to bond with my peers, not fight, and I liked these people, as long as they weren’t blasting me. Somehow I managed to chill things out and have some good discussions about Abraham Lincoln and then about the superiority of Index Multi-Spindles.
It seemed like almost everybody at the conference owned Indexes and loved them. This turned out to be a quite a useful thing for me personally, because the second-to-last day of the conference, my coworker Rex was in Australia bidding on several MS Indexes. I ran recon all over the conference asking folks how the machines worked, what models were most popular, how difficult it was to tool them, and most importantly, how much the machines cost new. Eventually I found out Rex had bought an MS32. One of my fellow PMPAers was especially helpful and told me he paid $1,300,000 for his. I then consulted an Index sales rep for Sweden at the conference who quoted me a price in Swedish Krona, which converted to around the same price as the first one I was quoted.
Everyone at the conference was fantastic about sharing their knowledge of the machinery and the industry with me. They answered my questions about the merits of CNC Hydromats verses traditional ones — they like both. They told me why they preferred one equipment brand over another, and what methods they used to give them pricing power with their customers. They answered my rudimentary questions about how to count the number of axes on a machine. Sometimes we just talked about their children or how fast they get to drive their Porches on the autobahn.
I guess people are generally open and welcoming when they get to talk about the topics they know best and love. Their enthusiasm fueled my own. I felt a stronger bond with my machining industry peers than ever before.
Question: Do you usually find conferences in your industry worthwhile or a waste of time and money?