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I went to IMTS last month with a
singular purpose: to find the one
standout technology that will shape
the manufacturing industry for the
next two years.
This has been a bulletproof strategy for every iteration of the event
I have attended. We have had cobot years and robot years; we’ve had additive years and
hybrid years; we’ve had cryogenic years and we’ve had axes
years. And, of course, more recently we’ve had the quick
rise of the IIo T.
These tech highlights have always provided a perfect barometer for the industry—by finding the newest tech with the
largest crowds, it has been fairly easy to assess where buyers
would be spending and where companies would be developing
or acquiring, along with the general shape of the future.
This year, however, the plan failed.
From my perspective, there didn’t seem to be any standout
technology this year. There were plenty of amazing products
and incredible breakthroughs, sure. But there was no sign of
a dominant industry or program or application that seemed
to be carving out a new path for us.
Instead, I found that all of these disparate, cutting edge innovations of IMTS’ past seem to have merged.
The IIo T no longer stands out, because it is now integrated
into seemingly every machine tool, part, and component.
Robots—standard, collaborative, mobile, whatever—were just
as ubiquitous, tending machines, juggling sports cars, even
automating additive processes.
At one point, just to emphasize the point I think, I saw a mobile
robot carrying a cobot that was tending a machine tool, all of which
was controlled by the IIo T. That’s about as integrated as it gets.
One exchange I had at the show probably sums up my impressions best: During a particular booth tour, the guide asked me
if I would be surprised to hear they were using 3D-printed
“Honestly,” I said. “I’d be surprised if you weren’t.”
So what does this mean for the industry?
As far as I can tell, it means everything is awesome.
Each of these technologies has independently been hyped as
“the future of manufacturing.” Each one of them has been dubbed
part of the new “industrial revolution.” Each one of them, we have
been told, will change the industry forever just as soon as it
matures, just as soon as the greater industry adopts it.
Well now, it seems, the technologies are mature. Now, it seems,
the greater industry has adopted them.
Which means things are about to get very, very interesting.
In fact, they already are.
On my flight out of Chicago, crammed into a middle Southwest
seat, the closing argument for this whole case cruised right by
me: attached to the flight attendants’ drink-laden trays, propping
up their order cards as they hurried through the aisles, was a
tiny, custom 3D-printed clip.
It was this small thing, this one little piece of additive in the
wild, that offered all of the validation I needed. It, along with the
endless booths I had explored the days before, sent a clear
message: the future is here. The
future is now. And it’s going to