After a several-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) is back and better than ever. The show is typically held every two years and is North America’s largest manufacturing trade show. This year’s show, which was held at McCormick Place in Chicago, featured more than 2,000 exhibitors worldwide. Sure it took me a bike ride to the train station, an hour-long train ride, a bus ride I enjoyed but didn’t need to take, and one more train ride to get me to the show, but it was worth it.
The coffee lines at McCormick Place were 100 people deep, letting me know that we were back and ready to meet in person again and that we needed automated solutions for getting people their coffee. While the show is primarily a manufacturing show, plenty of supply chain, material handling, and warehouse solutions were displayed.
As a warehouse guy, I was interested in seeing what new technologies would be displayed at the show. I was not disappointed. Many supply chain and warehouse solutions were revealed, including end-to-end order fulfillment solutions, robotic picking arms, AMRs and autonomous forklifts, productivity-enhancing solutions, and much more.
Why do we lift a Corvette with a robot arm? Because we can…
One of the show’s most impressive displays was from Fanuc. Claiming to be the strongest six-axis robot on the market, the M-2000iA robotic arm from Fanuc lifts a Corvette easily as we all geek out. The adjacent booths were not as impressed as they devised a plan to one-up the display when the next show rolls around.
Fanuc offers an extensive line of material-handling robots, from compact to heavy-duty robots capable of picking, palletizing, and packaging. Their products are designed to improve efficiency and productivity while reducing costs. Their products are used in various industries, including automotive, aerospace, food and beverage, and medical device manufacturing.
Strong Focus on Labor Solutions
I was surprised by the amount of ERP solutions available at IMTS. Many of the ERP providers I spoke with discussed the need to be more productive and provide greater visibility to employees to empower them in their work. The labor challenges we see in warehouses are also present in many manufacturing plants, which have many manufacturing plants turning to technology to enhance productivity and retention.
Redzone was one such company offering a connected solution for the workforce that includes hardware, software, and services. The solution helps companies manage employee productivity and training through gamification. Workers see their performance on a company dashboard that displays if they are winning (green) or losing (red).
Otto Motors had an impressive display of AMRs and their autonomous forklift, the Otto Lifter. In addition to AMRs and forklifts, Otto provides fleet management to ensure companies are getting the most efficient use out of their products, as well as Otto Care, designed to keep the ecosystem healthy and maximize uptime.
The AMRs and the Otto Lifter performed their synchronistic dance routine, which was quite a sight. A member of the Otto team, who is also an integrator, said they are busy, and many of their customers are new to AMRs.They are seeing many customers adopt AMRs in a phased approach. For example, they start with 1-5 and scale up. The Otto Lifter moves medium-sized loads with a payload of 2,640 pounds, making it ideal for various applications, including order picking, pallet transportation, and more.
Rapid Robotics is making robots less scary, more accessible, and more flexible. What I mean by that is their robotic picking solution is easy to set up, low cost, and can move to other locations to perform other tasks. How easy to set up, you ask? How about setting up in 60 seconds? Hence the name Rapid Robotics. Can we get Rabid Robotics running the coffee booth?
I spent more time at the Rapid Robotics booth than at any other location. The team shared that they never had a robot returned. They can remote access for troubleshooting and even let the customer know if an event occurs. Under the proper business case, the robotic arm can work for less than five dollars an hour. That’s still more than I made in High School!
The Rapid Robotics team provides an excellent solution for small and medium-sized businesses to get started in automation and robotics without making a massive change to operations or a significant capital investment. As a former supply chain manager, I found flexibility most intriguing. Often we buy a tool or imagine a process, and things change when we see it in reality. A better way reveals itself or a more value-added purpose. Take the ping pong table we scooped up at a garage sale; it is much better for piling up laundry that nobody wants to fold than it is for leisure activity.
The International Manufacturing Technology Show is a momentous event for manufacturers and supply chain professionals. It is a chance to see the latest technology available and learn about new trends emerging in the industry. If you missed this year’s IMTS show, don’t worry – it will be back in 2024. In the meantime, supply chain professionals can attend plenty of other trade shows and events to stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends and technologies. Click here to learn more about integrating robots into your material handling processes.