The year was 2008. FABTECH, North America's largest metal fabricating and forming technology tradeshow, was making its first visit to Las Vegas. The opening day of the event generated a lot of excitement because more visitors attended that first day than had ever attended a FABTECH opening day, which included the typically larger Chicago shows. Many attendees were uncertain about the economy cooling down, but plenty of others blamed such talk on the liberal media trying to sabotage the economy. Several weeks later, however, any enthusiasm soon faded; the U.S. economy seemingly fell off of the cliff.
The year is 2012. FABTECH returned to Las Vegas, Nov. 12-14. The opening day generated similar numbers as the show four years ago. Attendees still don't know how much their taxes will go up in 2013 or just how much the federal government's new health care mandate will cost them. Meanwhile, some attendees point the finger at the liberal media for not recognizing that the metal manufacturing sector is operating at near-full capacities. Business is good, but uncertainty remains high even after the presidential election. Can the Republican majority in the House of Representatives work with the Democratic majority in the Senate to provide a roadmap that helps the federal government avoid the huge mandatory budget cuts that are linked to the "fiscal cliff"?
It appears what is old is new again—much to everyone's frustration. But there is good news, and that is fueling quiet optimism among the metal fabricating community walking the floors of FABTECH 2012. Everyone is lean and means to grow the business. Everyone is waiting on the right moment to do it, however.
From a technology standpoint, the machine tools are there. Fiber lasers with 4 kW of power are now available from a variety of companies; they can cut thin-gauge metals at ridiculous speeds and now can handle the thicker gauges as well, easily providing a quality cut on 0.25-in. material. Other machine tools, such as hardware insertion presses and press brakes, now have easy-to-operate, touch-screen controls that can help to turn new employees into productive employees in a short amount of time. Advancements in welding technology are helping to eliminate downtime, making it easier for welders to changeover from one job to another and extending the life of consumables.
From an economic standpoint, a panel of metal fabricating company leaders told a FABTECH audience on Nov. 12 that they are positive that business will remain upbeat over the next 18 months. Two days later, a panel of Washington insiders suggested that any uncertainty related to the fiscal cliff can be forgotten because legislators at the very least are likely to reach another short-term compromise to avoid the end-of-year budget cuts.
Rob Marelli, president, Seconn Fabrication, Waterford, Conn., said he finally had enough of waiting before deciding to invest in robotic press brakes.
"We had to make a decision. We couldn't wait forever," he said.
That's a situation in which many fabricators find themselves. It's time to move or risk competitors moving past you.
TheFabricator.com provides metal fabrication professionals with market news, the industry's best articles, product news, and conference information from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl.