By: Michele Nash-Hoff, Can American Manufacturing Be Saved
At a time when trade shows and exhibitions have been shrinking in size, combining with other shows, and even disappearing like NEPCON and WESCON, a successful 18th Del Mar Electronics and Design Show was held May 2nd and 3rd in the San Diego region.
According to the report, “Manufacturing & Industrial Exhibition & Event Marketing Trends & Outlook,” published by TradeShow Week and Skyline Exhibits, a survey of manufacturers revealed that manufacturing trade shows and exhibitions in the United States have been affected by the shift of production offshore since the year 2000. Manufacturers are exhibiting at fewer events in North America and are heading to China to participate in trade shows. Many companies are scaling down the size of their booths and placing fewer, but more informed people in their booths. “Two out of three exhibitors believe that demographics are impacting their industry and shows and about half of this group indicates that attendance levels are lower as waves of executives and managers retire in the industry.”
While the demise of trade shows has been predicted because of the Internet and outsourcing offshore, DMEDS and other regional shows such as the Design-2-Part shows been able to buck the trend and provide value for exhibitors and attendees.
DMEDS is the only show in the San Diego region for the broad base of the manufacturing, electronics, and design industry to exhibit and attend. It is large for a regional show with nearly 400 booths filling the two largest buildings and a tent between them at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. It originated as a show where the majority of exhibitors were manufacturers’ representatives and distributors exhibited their product lines, primarily related to the electronics industry. However, the number of manufacturers’ representatives and distributors exhibiting dwindled every year and the number of manufacturers displaying a wider range of products and services increased every year until reps and distributor exhibits comprised less than ten percent of the booths.
DMEDS is now a very different show than what it used to be and provides value for attendees by giving them the opportunity to meet and talk with a wide variety of potential sources. Products displayed are as diverse as adhesives to wireless and portable products in the A to Z show directory index. Some of the services available include 3D scanning, assembly, design engineering, contract manufacturing, research prototyping, test measurement and calibration, and training. Custom fabrication services exhibited include: dip brazing, die and investment casting, forging, machining, plastic and rubber molding, sheet metal fabrication, vacuum and pressure forming, and welding. You can still find electronic components, as well as fasteners, hardware, and tools. My company, ElectroFab Sales, has participated in the show for 15 years, displaying the custom fabrication services of the companies we represent.
Most of the manufacturing exhibitors had parts, assemblies, and products on display at their booths so engineers could have examples of how their designs could be fabricated. Browsing websites to find pictures of parts just isn’t the same as seeing actual parts in person. Besides, engineers could ask questions about materials, design details, and tolerances that are not easily answered through contact on the Internet.
Free seminars on a broad range of topics were provided for attendees both days of the show. I gave one of the presentations on “Returning Manufacturing to America, highlighting the Total Cost of Ownership worksheet that was developed by Harry Moser of the Reshoring Initiative.
An informal poll of attendees, visitors to our booth, and exhibitors in our building revealed that in the past year, all but one American company had one or more customers give them a chance to quote on making parts that were currently being made in China. One purchasing agent told me that if pricing from an American company comes within 20% or less than the pricing from China, he is allowed to select a domestic source. If more companies would use the TCO worksheet to do a true total cost analysis, American companies would have even greater opportunities to recapture business now being done in China.
The show location is centrally located in San Diego County, with easy access to a major interstate highway, and parking is also free. What makes it even more popular is a free reception immediately after the show ends at 5 PM on the first day of the show, providing excellent networking opportunities with industry peers for exhibitors and attendees. If you haven’t been to a DMEDS show for a few years, be sure to make it a priority to attend the next show in May 2013.
The dozen different Design-2-Part shows, produced by the Job Shop Company, are held regionally around the county and feature design, custom fabrication, and contract manufacturers located in the United States. While some of these companies may also have a plant offshore, no offshore-only companies are allowed to exhibit in the show. No sales representatives or distributors are allowed to have their own booths in the show. The mission of Design-2-Part shows is to support and feature American manufacturers.
At the Design-2-Part shows, engineers get to see and touch actual parts built by the exhibitors. This gives them ideas to use for new products they are designing and shows them how other people have solved problems they may be encountering in their design phase.
I have been attending the Design-2-Part shows since 1982 when I started in sales, and the Long Beach show in October 2010 and Pasadena show in 2011 were exciting. The show attendance for both shows was up to the pre-recession levels of fall 2007. Show management said the Long Beach show was one of the best Southern California shows in the history of the company, with attendance up 21 percent over the 2009 show in Pasadena and up ten percent over the 2008 show in Pomona. The shows were so well attended that many exhibitors had trouble talking to all of the attendees that were visiting their booths. The attendees weren’t just browsing, and many exhibitors had far more leads from these shows than the 2008 and 2009 shows.
What made it even more exciting was the number of attendees who came to the shows looking for domestic sources for parts for new products or looking for a domestic source to replace an offshore vendor for parts for existing products, with some even bringing prints to quote. We heard several stories about quality problems with offshore vendors that are making it no longer advantageous to source the parts offshore. One company mentioned that because parts coming from China didn’t meet dimensional specifications, they had to rework the parts and modify assembly steps at their own cost. When they contacted the Chinese vendor to return the parts, the Chinese vendors said, “We’ll be happy to accept a new order for the parts,” but wouldn’t give credit for the defective parts from the previous order. Refusing to take back and give credit for rejected parts is typical for Chinese vendors.
Harry Moser of the Reshoring Initiative has been a featured speaker at some of the Design-2-Part shows around the country, and I have given presentations at three of the West Coast shows on returning manufacturing to America by doing a thorough TCO analysis. As more and more companies learn how to utilize this worksheet, the “reshoring” trend will continue to grow.
As long as show exhibitors and attendees receive value from regional trade shows such as DMEDS and the Design-2-Part shows, they will continue to thrive and grow. In our new age of digital communication, many realize that there is no substitute for the face-to-face interaction provided by this type of trade show. Be sure to put one of these shows on your calendar to attend in the future.