The interzum and Ligna fairs have been run and won. Organisers are happy; exhibitors are happy and visitors are happy. This year maybe not quite a thousand; but many hundreds of Australian and New Zealand manufacturers are reported by Australian representatives to have visited one or both shows.

The German trade shows interzum and Ligna, held over a two-week period every two years in May-June are recognised as the World’s best. Other National shows are held in the off year just like our very own AWISA show and these are very good at showcasing products important to the National industry interest. However, interzum and Ligna stand apart for their ability to draw the very best from around the World and put it all into a very neat; easy-to-use package deal. In 2017 both shows surpassed all expectations for visitor numbers and despite the maturity of the industry, still offer the visitor an overabundance of things to see; ideas to take home and relationships to build.

Supplier will have a more comprehensive look at the exhibitors from both shows in the next issue but it’s worthwhile to have a look now at some of the highlights of the fairs. First, interzum in the week before Ligna is held in Cologne and is easy to get to from Cologne, just across the Rhine or by train from the many surrounding towns. Interzum; like Ligna is a big show with 1,732 exhibitors, up several hundred from the last show. Its spread over many halls but each hall has a specific focus so two or three of the halls should satisfy your needs and for this you will need at least two days.

The bigger suppliers are of course the ones with the largest stands and this year a few were quite monumental and would have cost many tens of thousands of dollars to construct. We noticed some stands were almost fully enclosed and some needed a business card to enter. This was at first confronting and slightly annoying but it did mean that you got to speak with someone that was able to best answer your questions.

We note also that at both shows there were significant numbers of Australian agents at the shows to answer all your local questions. Not everything you see at a show in Germany makes its way to Australia and some of it takes a few months before its released here and the local people are able to advise you on this. We thought that at interzum we were able to get plenty of time with almost all of our local reps but at Ligna it was not so easy due to the larger crowds and people taking longer to make decisions worth in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, when we did get to sit down with our Australian or New Zealand agents, they made our small wait all the more worthwhile. They like to see their Australian clients there and in spite of busy schedules, spend as much time with you as they can. As a magazine, Supplier isn’t buying anything but for the most part and especially at interzum, they are still pleased to see us.

Ligna had about twenty five thousand more visitors than interzum and this is twice as much as our AWISA fair so it’s a significant number. As a show Ligna occupies around the same footprint as interzum but the halls are further apart and there are no upper floors. Both shows had revised layouts and visitors were very happy with the changes where similar technologies and products were brought together to simplify the visitor experience. Ligna is mostly a high-tech show and suppliers use this opportunity to bring out their very best to impress their customers. Full production lines over 100 metres are not uncommon and while everyone won’t be buying one of these; it’s good to know that your supplier is able to operate at the highest level of technology.

Interestingly; there are always plenty of new things to see at these shows. A hinge is a hinge is a hinge and we’ve seen enough CNC machines to last a lifetime but there’s still a lot of new product and it’s all released in Germany. Milan used to hold almost an equal position on the World stage but the German shows are now far and away the most-visited. One thing that makes international trade fairs fascinating is the enormous range of exhibitors they often attract. This is best demonstrated at LIGNA in Hannover, where everyone finds their niche and the attention they want and need from the up-and-coming three-person start-up to the large global corporations.

When visiting a show like Ligna it’s easy to get a bit blasé about the equipment but one must look a little closer to find that most of the products are different in some way. It’s like the Porsche 911; over 50 years in production but over that time there have been many variations and refinements to the original design and performance. Machinery can be like that too and a CNC machine will often have something new to enhance its performance and make it a worthwhile investment. Take for example the row of Biesse Rover machines dubbed “RoverStrasse” demonstrating technologies from basic cabinet nesting to high-end 5-axis workability. In fact, 5-axis could almost be described as entry-level now, due to the massive price drop from only a few years ago.

Of course, the big talking point at Ligna was industry 4.0 but it’s still not widely known in Australia. Certainly at our last AWISA there were signs and technologies supporting the new manufacturing ideology but manufacturer’s we’ve spoken to here know little about it and in some cases have never heard of it. Maybe the terminology will disappear as the years roll on and the digital technologies become commonplace? Everyone remembers industry 1.0 commonly called the industrial revolution but what happened to industry 2.0 and 3.0? We seemed to have jumped a few steps. The second revolution was electricity and the third computerisation and we saw this in the 1980’s. Industry 4.0 is about digitalisation and while this will be physically less visible it promises to be as significant as computerisation due to its far reaching potential; that is, once everyone understands it. If you wanted to know more about industry 4.0 then Ligna was the place to see it all in action.

Many of the products and equipment seen in Germany will eventually find their way to an Australian and New Zealand showroom. For those manufacturers who went to Germany, their machine could be on the water as this e-newsletter goes out to your mailbox. Over the years, labour has gradually been replaced by technology not only in the form of manufacturing equipment but also in products and manufacturing techniques. Often, what would appear to be a minor improvement can save a company many thousands of dollars every year. The larger than normal number of Australian and New Zealand visitors to this year’s German shows tell us that keeping up with the latest technologies is as important as it ever was and in the new age of digitalisation, maybe even more so.