The evolution of NPE: A new role for the trade show?

At the start of this month, I wrote about the earliest days of NPE, starting in 1946. My personal experience of NPE began with my first visit to Chicago in 1994, which in itself was exciting. My fellow journalists—I was with a different publication at the time—loved Chicago and after the show they would drag me around to all the blues bars. I usually ended up taking a taxi back to the hotel by myself around midnight, as I’ve never been a night person. It was fascinating, however.

Vintage NPE ad
Like plastics processing technology, advertising also
has evolved. Image courtesy PLASTICS.

Even more fascinating was the size of McCormick Place and the number of plastics companies gathered there. Being a machinery lover since my childhood—my dad was a tool and die maker and wood worker, so machinery was always part of my life—I couldn’t get enough of watching the machines run. Setting up what amounted to a small injection molding plant at NPE was a monumental task, but the results were amazing.

At that time, NPE was the time and place for releasing all things new and exciting: New technologies, new machines, new materials and new ideas. Companies kept everything under wraps until the opening day of the big show. That made it even more exciting for industry journalists such as myself. We grabbed up company brochures and press kits (all printed out, of course), did dozens of interviews and spent late afternoons into the evenings working to get the news out.

By the time NPE 1997 rolled around, the plastics industry was booming thanks to a bull economy during the Clinton years. Molders couldn’t buy enough machinery and equipment. Every time they got an order from a customer for a new molding program, they bought another molding press. At least, that’s the way it seemed. I can remember one molding machine maker telling me he had to back-order presses just to have enough to bring to NPE. Some were sold before the show but kept for the event and shipped to the customer from the NPE floor.

NPE 2000 was the absolute climax of NPE trade shows to that point. After-hours events were amazing parties at some of the most spectacular venues in Chicago. There were even sports celebrities in attendance, brought in by various companies. They went all out to showcase technology that promised to improve capabilities and increase productivity. To do that, automation was the star of the show. With all the demand for increased molding capacity the 1990s had brought on, automation seemed to be the answer to speeding things up—getting more parts in boxes faster—and improving quality. Nearly every press at the show had a robot on it. It was really the beginning of a rush to automate every press in the plant.

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