By Paul Carslake
Interkama, the world’s biggest trade fair for automation technology, is back in Dusseldorf on 18 October after a four-year absence. Formerly on a three-year cycle, the show should have taken place last year, but skipped an extra year to avoid a clash with K, the international plastics exhibition. However, a transformation of the industry over the past four years has forced a number of big changes in what the show is all about.
Demand for exhibition space has fallen because many smaller firms have gone to the wall, while some of the biggest players have merged, including ABB and Elsag-Bailey, and BTR and Siebe. Official forecasts show a marginal dip from the 56,600sq m occupied at the last show.
At the same time the market is oversupplied. The past decade has seen continuous pressures on the margins of automation suppliers as their customers come to expect products with a greater range of functions but at far lower costs. Turnover has stagnated, putting more pressure on firms to consolidate.
Meanwhile, software development and new technology, which have put more emphasis on systems integration, have made the focus of previous shows look outdated.
`The main criticism of the 1995 show was that it was not complete any more,’ according to Michael Ziesemer, corporate director of measurement instrumentation supplier Endress+Hauser and president of Interkama 99. He admits some sectors of industry seemed to have been left out, and there were gaps in the range of automation and measurement systems on show for manufacturing and process sites. `I could see those shortcomings. It was a signal that the differentiation between factory and process is no longer there.’
The Interkama show has its roots in measurement and control systems, but has more recently been forced by the market to broaden out to every element of automation: switching, drives, software that reaches right up to the company’s enterprise resource planning systems, and integration of all system software and devices.
Accordingly, this year’s show will also include exhibitors from software suppliers such as SAP, IBM, Microsoft, Wonderware, Intellution and Honeywell as well as offering an increased focus on system integration. There will also be two conferences running during the event: the ISA Conference, which will focus on problem solving in areas such as batch management and networking, and Chemputers, which is about software in process and control instrumentation.
The success of these will depend largely on how long people decide to stay at the exhibition. With a tendency for visitors to stay just a day and a half, a one-day conference demands a rethink of how they spend their time. `This would have been much more severe if we did not have the additional attractions of software and services this year,’ says Ziesemer.
`Personally I don’t care how big the show is,’ he adds. `The important thing is that visitors come to see it.’ However, visitor numbers could be 20% down from the record levels of the late 1980s when close to 100,000 visited the show. This year the forecast is for about 80,000, a similar level to four years ago.
The long-term prospects for shows like Interkama could be transformed by further development of internet resources, and Interkama is aiming to create a permanent web site bringing together links to all its exhibitors.
However, the show, as Ziesemer says, must go on: `It’s the market place for people in the field and it shows you the competition. Nobody at a show needs detailed technical information. What you want to see is the vision, a feel for the possibilities of the technology and a grasp of the industry’s business issues. You can learn a lot about a company just by studying the behaviour of its employees.’
Interkama runs from 18-23 October at the Messe Dusseldorf, Germany. Information on: www.messe-duesseldorf.de or www.interkama.de