German Tonic for America’s Manufacturing Doldrums

April 10, 2008
The latest economic data from the Institute of Supply Management says U.S. manufacturing activity has declined to a five-year low, as slowing demand and rising prices continue to damp manufacturing output.

Two ways OEMs can counter these trends are to export more and find economical suppliers for components and subsystems. A trip to the upcoming Hannover Fair in Germany, the world’s largest industrial trade fair, may let manufacturers do both in one stop.

First, the weak dollar is changing the Eurozone mindset. “European manufacturers, and especially the leading German companies, are more and more interested in doing business with suppliers from other countries,” says Marco Siebert, a spokesman for show organizer Deutsche Messe AG. “In the past they typically purchased from local partners, or perhaps in nearby Austria or Benelux,” he says. But given the state of the dollar, the Germans are leaving tradition behind and looking to U.S companies, among others, for high-quality, engineered products at a bargain, according to Siebert.

The Hannover Fair, scheduled for April 21 to 25, is expected to attract more than 5,000 exhibitors, about half from Germany. And unlike U.S. shows, it’s routine practice to take orders and field offers at German exhibitions.

At the same time, the largest sector in this year’s Fair is subcontracting, drawing suppliers from about 60 countries. The show, says Siebert, is not only a conduit to manufacturers in Western Europe, but to lower-cost suppliers in Eastern Europe as well. Countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, and Turkey are well represented. “And we are seeing more and more companies from Asia coming to Hannover, looking to get closer to Europe and other overseas markets,” he says.

“You can easily find a number of suppliers on the Internet, but you don’t really know if they are a good fit,” cautions Siebert. “At Hannover, visitors from the U.S. can walk the aisles and find dozens of potential suppliers from around the world, all in one place.” Attendees can meet the owners and learn about their facilities, capabilities, and commitment to quality, says Siebert. “On the show floor, you can quickly find out if it makes sense to follow up or not, and save considerable time and money.”

The subcontracting show includes experts in virtually every manufacturing process, showcasing machined, forged, cast, stamped, and molded parts from virtually any material imaginable. It also includes suppliers of fastening and joining hardware, heat treatments and coatings, as well as component assembly and testing services. The focus of the sector is also changing a bit, says Siebert, from mere part suppliers a few years ago to a more systems-based approach today — encompassing everything from fundamental research and design to delivery of the final products.

Subcontracting is just one of 10 trade shows at this year’s Hannover Fair. Among the others will be shows on microtechnology — including micro and nanomaterials, ultraprecision manufacturing, and lasers — and research and technology, featuring basic and applied research in fields such as bionics, photonics, intelligent textiles, nanotechnology, and superconductors.

Three related industrial-automation shows will focus on factory, process, and building automation. Displays and exhibits will include electric-power transmission and motion-control systems, IT and Ethernet for automation, and the latest innovations in mechanical engineering.

Special presentations held during each show take on a range of timely issues, such as safety, network security, clean-room technology, wireless automation, and energy efficiency in industrial processes. A notable display on industrial PCs will include a faceoff between Linux and Windows-based industrial-control systems. And a hall devoted to mobile robots will showcase autonomous systems, driverless transport systems, service robots, and mobile robots for the factory. For more info, visit


The 2008 Hannover Fair features 10 trade shows. The largest, subcontracting, will attract suppliers from nearly 60 countries.

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