Mary SciannaClick image to enlargeby Mary Scianna


Two decades ago, when I worked on a different manufacturing magazine, the industry association at that time launched what it called the first virtual trade show. People were abuzz with interest, and the event and digital platform were lauded as “the future of trade shows.” 

And yet, within about five years, instead of growing, the digital platform faltered and eventually disappeared. 

There were many reasons for the failure but a likely one was technology. It wasn’t because the technology behind the digital platform was poor—although it was somewhat cumbersome to navigate through the virtual trade show—it was because the nature of what was being sold: manufacturing equipment and technologies. And, perhaps even more importantly, the lack of face-to-face interaction with people.

The digital world plays an important role in this industry and is transforming how businesses around the world approach manufacturing processes, but it has its limits when it comes to trade shows. 

Online, people can view equipment demonstrations and “how to” videos,  but it’s not the equivalent of someone seeing a machine under power at a trade show and having an expert on hand to help them understand the nuances of a technology (i.e. associated software) in question which, ultimately, will provide a better learning experience. 

There is a place for virtual trade shows, but their role is more of a complementary one that enhances the trade show experience by providing additional information on a technology of interest. A good example are trade show apps that can develop customized 3D virtual roadmaps of a trade show floor and create tappable links to specific exhibitors or technologies with detailed information tailored to an attendee’s needs.

A UK survey from Display Wizard found that 92 per cent of trade show attendees say their main reason for attending trade shows is to see new products and 65 per cent said such events give them a greater understanding of a product or service. And on the exhibitor side, 75 per cent of those surveyed said they predict a positive future for trade shows, noting the importance of face-to-face communication that helps generate brand awareness and positive ROI.

It’s likely one main reason trade shows like CMTS, IMTS, FABTECH and EMO continue to thrive. In fact, the upcoming biennial CMTS event has seen a steady increase in exhibitors and attendee in recent years. 

Trade shows will continue to evolve, but for the foreseeable future, they’re here to stay in their current format for the simple reason that they’re effective. SMT

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