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Industry Trade Shows Follow Divergent Paths

In the face of declines, ISA Expo will downsize to a conference format and change its name next year, while the Pack Expo show continues to thrive.

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There were several product announcements at ISA Expo, held Oct. 6-8 at Houston’s Reliant Center. But the ISA itself stole the limelight with the announcement that this year’s show is the last ISA Expo. In the face of declining attendance, declining floor space sold to exhibitors and little-to-no interest by the major systems suppliers in supporting the show, the International Society of Automation (ISA, has decided to switch to a conference format for 2010.

The new name for the event is Automation Week, which the ISA refers to as “a knowledge-based conference event, focusing on delivering critical knowledge on application of automation technologies in processing and manufacturing environments to top professionals.” It will be held Oct. 4-7, 2010, at the Westin Galleria in Houston. It expects to continue to attract top educational, vendor-neutral speakers and serve as a central location for standards working group meetings.

Second largest

Meanwhile in Las Vegas, where the Pack Expo packaging exhibition and conference was held on overlapping Oct. 5-7 dates, activity was brisk this year, with show organizers reporting the second largest event to date for the Las Vegas venue. “We surpassed our goals on both registration and exhibit space,” said a source at the sponsoring Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI, following the show.  

Preliminary Pack Expo Las Vegas 2009 attendance numbers came in at about 22,700, not counting exhibitors, said the source. That’s slightly less than about 23,000 who attended in 2007—the last time that the event was held in Las Vegas—but up from the 21,000 who attended in 2005. Exhibit floor space occupied by more than 1,000 exhibitors came in at about 516,000 square feet at this year’s event, which was down by only about 5 percent from 2007, the source said.

With a few exceptions, automation vendors on the Pack Expo show floor told Automation World that they were satisfied with the quantity and quality of booth traffic. No one seemed to have a definitive answer for why the Pack Expo show seems to be holding up well, while many other trade shows have been in decline in recent years, including ISA Expo. But some attribute Pack Expo strength to the relatively recession-proof nature of the food and beverage, and pharmaceutical industries served by packaging vendors, machine builders and automation suppliers.

The Pack Expo venue alternates between Las Vegas and Chicago—with the latter being a much larger show than the Las Vegas version. Next year’s Pack Expo International in Chicago is scheduled for Oct. 31–Nov. 3, 2010.

Knowledge is key

At ISA Expo, Society sources put a positive face on the plans for next year’s event. “It's all about knowledge,” said ISA President Jerry Cockrell. “ISA is a knowledge society. We have 30,000 members and we train, we educate, we run seminars and symposia, we have standards, books, educational programs—everything we disseminate is based on knowledge. We’re excited about what ISA Automation Week can offer,” he added.

The ISA conference planners envision a scaled-down exhibition hall for next year’s Automation Week, with 10-foot booths in a ballroom. Although this year's edition of ISA Expo wasn’t a “ghost town,” it was surely a small trade show, occupying less than half the ballrooms allocated to it. And it was tremendously smaller than its heyday years in the early and mid-1990s.

ISA simply couldn't offer a value proposition to the large systems companies to bring back their large, expensive booths (and bring in their customers), in competition with these vendors’ own user conferences, which have grown significantly over the past six years.

International Society for Automation

Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute

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