Machine Tooling Expo Indicates Market Trends and Manufacturer Needs Among Cautiously Optimistic Crowd

If the attendance at September’s International Manufacturing Technology Show is anything to go by, U.S. machine tool manufacturers could be seeing a sharp rise in the demand for factory-floor equipment.

The expo, which drew approximately 110,000 visitors in Chicago, was crowded with industry representatives showing off robots and other devices. Many attendees spent time not only learning about advancements in the industry, but also collecting price sheets and quotes from the vendor booths.

The improving U.S. economy could have something to do with it: there have been more sales this year of cars, appliances and jets, all of which require machinery to cut and shape their metal parts.

Some visitors and vendors alike at the International Manufacturing Technology Show were on the lookout for specific items. One business owner needed robotic painting and welding equipment to manufacture forklift truck cabs; another wanted to purchase new equipment for his business, which specializes in electrical-discharging machinery, which forms metals with electrical currents instead of cutting tools.

Those who were interviewed at the expo predicted growth for their companies, despite some of 2014’s lackluster numbers.

Although the industry generates roughly $5 billion per year in the United States, orders fell 5.4% in 2013; as of the end of July 2014, machine tool orders had slipped 2.3% from the same point one year earlier, according to the Association for Manufacturing Technology.

In order to offset costs and curb spending, many companies in the U.S. have looked to used machinery purchases for their production needs.

But market trends look optimistic — Gardner Research surveys indicate that equipment buyers may spend up to 37% more next year, the highest amount in the past seven years. Some companies represented at the International Manufacturing Technology Show were already getting started on their new equipment purchases.

Steven Kline, Jr., director of market intelligence for Gardner, said the continuing resurgence for the industry will be dependent on the automotive, aerospace and plumbing industries. Based on the past economic patterns, the market should hit a peak in 2015 or 2016 before falling again, he said.

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