Technical conferences are recognized as one of the best platforms for exchanging new ideas and for keeping current on what is happening in a specific field of interest. Concurrent with the different scientific tracks, there is usually an exhibition that allows the major players in the field to showcase their technology and, most importantly, the latest in their arsenal of tools and products. For a busy engineer seeking parts, a quick tour of the exhibits could replace endless hours of searching on the Internet.
Last month I attended PCIM Europe 2007 in beautiful Nuremburg, Germany. Apart from the large number of good papers that were presented over a three-day period, I was very impressed by the number of the power-industry companies from all over the world that participated in the exhibition attached to the conference. The most prominent exhibitors were semiconductor companies with a vast array of new and improved products. Other companies in the exhibition with products ranging from heatsinks to specialized passive components to transducers and test equipment also made a good and visible showing.
This very impressive and concentrated power-industry presence allowed thousands of engineers, purchasing managers and technologists to make contacts with the exhibitors, which would later be followed by further interactions regarding their specific needs. Ultimately, these intense interactions will lead to millions of dollars of sales for the exhibitors and state-of-the-art new designs for the vibrant power industry.
Earlier this year, I attended a conference in Shanghai, where a similar scenario unfolded. The only difference between these two events was that the number of participants in the Shanghai exhibition was several times larger than in Nuremburg. This got me thinking about my experience with conferences held here in the United States — the world’s hot spot in technology. Except for a small number of very well-known conferences, the kind of earnest participation of the manufacturing community and the engineering and scientific communities that occurs elsewhere is somewhat lacking in this country.
This disparity leads to the following questions: Why isn’t there greater participation in U.S. exhibitions? Can this situation be reversed so local engineers can be intensively exposed to the latest and greatest in technology-related products without having to travel half way around the world?
My personal opinion is that the tempered enthusiasm by exhibitors at U.S. exhibitions can only be attributed to financial reasons. The few advertising dollars available to any one company can be either spent on one or two large booths with the necessary bells and whistles or several modest booths at a larger number of conferences.
Modest booths draw little attention, because their very appearance minimizes expectations on the engineer’s side and leads to modest interest. This leads to an unfortunate chicken-and-egg situation, where well-done booths with the proper eye-catching demonstrations are very well attended but can mainly be found in a few large conferences. Meanwhile, the less impressive booths everywhere else are not very well attended, leading to the unfortunate conclusion that larger exhibitions are the place to be.
I offer one last observation. We must remember that these conferences and exhibitions, regardless of their size, are geographically local and hence attendance is dominated by engineers in the general area. In other words, if they were held in a given country, engineers from that country would be in attendance at a much higher degree than the rest of the international engineering community.
If we want to target the engineering community in the United States, we must exhibit locally and with a very strong presence. Well-done booths that are fully populated by a company’s expert technical staff and sales personnel must represent vendors. With all vendors’ experts on hand, engineers can evaluate the available options and make their choices.