The Foot Soldiers of IMTS

By Lloyd Graff

On Wednesday I went to IMTS. It was going to be a 16-hour marathon because we were taking folks out to dinner after the business day, and had a 30-mile drive each way in bumper-to-bumper Chicago traffic. Emily Halgrimson, my associate at Today’s Machining World, drove, which eased my apprehension about the day. But for somebody who has had a lot of health issues, at 71, a 16-hour day in the endless din of McCormick Place is a challenge to negotiate.

I framed it in my head before I left my house. “I get to do this,” I said to myself, and I really believed it, too, but I knew it would be exhausting, even if it was exciting and exhilarating at times.

This is the hard part of aging for me. I want to do IMTS. I almost have to go to see clients and stay current, but it is physically very demanding, even for much younger people. For the folks who draw the job of setting up the exhibits for the big displays it is a 3-4 week trial by fire. Complicated machines with a million things that can go wrong are shipped by flatbeds to McCormick Place where union guys do the unloading and placement. For some of the big players like Okuma, Mazak and Haas, budgets are in the multi-millions of dollars. There are always last minute snafus and virtually every company is running up to the deadline to prepare for IMTS.

Mickey Tajariol, who runs ZPS Corporation of Zlin, Czech Republic, told me their new machine the “Penta” a fascinating and innovative multi-spindle bar machine, was completed two days before it had to be loaded in a container.

At Hydromat, the rotary transfer machine builder in St. Louis, their new larger Eclipse CNC station prototype was still in need of a sheet metal protective cover a day before shipment to Chicago. Bruno Schmitter, who runs the company, gave his approval only after sitting and then bouncing on the painted cover himself and then checking for any dents. It passed the Schmitter test, and was shipped.

Lloyd Graff next to a car body and chassis made with additive technology in a couple days at Oak Ridge Tennessee lab.

Mindy Mikami of Okuma in Charlotte had a major role in getting their massive exhibit to Chicago. How they not only got the enormous double column machining center reassembled in the front of aisle 8500 in the South Building is a McCormick Place Miracle. I invited Mindy out for ice cream or a drink on the Friday before the show to renew acquaintance, but she was working until later than I could stay in the city.

To me, the folks who work the show day after day, set it up and tear it down, are heroic. For the big builders particularly, IMTS is their main face to the public. It’s their chance to shine. It is a great chance to reconnect with customers and attract new potential buyers. It confirms their technical capability to a probing herd of potential doubters.

Big exhibitions like IMTS and EMO in Europe force the builders to continue to innovate. The Internet or even a showroom does not ratchet up the adrenaline like a competitive circus does. The feedback and questions during IMTS force changes in the prototypes when they are sent back to the factories. I think IMTS also fosters great camaraderie in the team and exposes the players who cannot or will not sacrifice for the group.

I believe everybody should do a few trade shows during their working career. And if you do not have the “privilege” of working a show, I strongly recommend that you walk IMTS or something similar for a couple of days, not just to appreciate the iron, but also the heroic foot soldiers who make it all come together.

Question: What’s your most memorable IMTS experience?

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7 thoughts on “The Foot Soldiers of IMTS

  1. Big Al

    Having a bad hip and being 40 pounds over-weight forced me to find a place to sit every hour or so. The excessive heat didn’t help either. On the plus side, the phone reception was much better than in the past.

  2. Ed Gnifkowski

    I know you’ve had some health issues, but you’re looking pretty good.
    I remember you as a young man when I visited GP and dealt with your dad or uncle.
    I did three IMTS shows in the 60’s/70’s. I was in my late 20’s at the time and learned a lot at the seminars I attended. Actually it was the seminars that I really went for as we mostly re manufactured older machines and couldn’t afford the new stuff. By the time I left that company, I think we had completely bought out the remaining Fostermatic lathes in the country. Take care of yourself.

  3. Bruskie

    In 1999 many of my colleagues and I took a bus into IMTS. We ran across a 6-26 Wickman multi-spindle screw machine that was on display there. I remember us watching in awe as they changed feed rates with a simple push of a button and at how smooth the machine ran, the quietness and the technology. What we didn’t know at the time was that our company president had also watched the machine run and was also awestruck! A few weeks later the machine was in our shop and a few week after that we were running complicated automotive parts that would, in the end, be used in many BMW’s around the world.

  4. rick

    I was there the first time back in 1986 with an engineer from Europe.
    I was shocked how many sales people he knew.
    We had some great times that week from the hospitality of so many European salesmen.

  5. Donnie

    I often wonder what their machinery would cost if the cut out all of that fat, didn’t do the dog & pony shows and just built really quality machinery. Just not a fan of someone putting on a show to sell a product that may not be what it really is, when the bells and whistles are gone. I speak as a person who presented at a couple of shows in the late 70″s and realized the cost of the show could never be recovered in the product, without a large inflation of price. Nice to look at, but really in practice, trade shows are a poor investment.

  6. Mindy


    I’m sorry I couldn’t escape the booth before the show, but it was great to see you in the Okuma booth during IMTS (hopefully we were an easy visit since we are right up front). The Okuma guys put in a ton of work for the show (some will be in Chicago for a whole month), but everyone at Okuma loves working hard to show the world all of the new technologies that Okuma has to offer. In addition, I personally enjoy the show because it means that at least every two years I get to see old friends who are still in the business, but might be wearing different logos on their shirts.

    I’ve already started to plan for IMTS 2018, and I’m looking forward to seeing you in our booth!

    Mindy Mikami
    Okuma America Corporation


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