A Brief History of IMTS: From Steam Power to Additive Manufacturing
Ian Wright posted on August 25, 2016 |
There are only 18 days left until IMTS 2016 kicks off in Chicago.

Before that happens, let’s take a moment to look back at some highlights from the 85-year history of the International Manufacturing Technology Show.


1927 - The First National Machine Tool Builders’ Exposition

The first ever IMTS was actually called the National Machine Tool Builders’ Exposition and was held in September of 1927 in the Cleveland Auditorium, in Ohio. The show floor took up a mere 63,000 sq. ft. of space with approximately 12,000 attendees.

The exhibition needed more power for the 428 operating machines than any previous tradeshow, resulting in the erection of a special transformer station, which was rated to handle 5,000 HP and cost USD$50,000.


1935 – The Machine Tool Show Held After Two Postponements

There was considerable uncertainty surrounding The Machine Tool Show during the Great Depression. Originally scheduled for September of 1932, “unfavorable business conditions” caused the show to be postponed to September of 1933 and then again to September 1935.

In the forward to the program, the National Machine Tool Builders’ Association (now AMT) stated:

“To say of an industrial exposition that it is ‘largest’ and ‘greatest’ is at any time, perhaps, reason for pride. The Machine Tool Show that you are visiting is not alone the greatest exposition of machine tools ever presented in this country, but is also, so far as can be determined, the largest single-industry exposition ever held anywhere.”

Unfortunately, the show would again be put on hold, for reasons hinted in the title of a presentation by Kenneth R. Condit, editor of American Machinist: Machine Shops in Nazi Germany.


1947 – The First Post-War Machine Tool Show

(Image courtesy of AMT.)

(Image courtesy of AMT.)

After the Second World War, the next Machine Tool Show was held in Chicago at the Dodge Tucker Plant, which leased 500,000 sq. ft. of space to the National Machine Tool Builders’ Association.

All machines at the ‘47 show were required to be painted “machine tool gray,” according to the IMTS website. In response, the Cincinnati Milling Machine Co. introduced a new cutting fluid that was bright pink.

“It really stood out against all that gray and was a great promotion,” recalled an unnamed attendee. “Can you imagine the sales person who had this idea trying to explain it to his boss?”


1960 – New Fangled Numerical Controls

An international lounge was set up to accommodate the increasing number of international visitors attending the show. (Image courtesy of AMT.)
An international lounge was set up to accommodate the increasing number of international visitors attending the show. (Image courtesy of AMT.)
Skipping forward in time, one topic was on everyone’s mind at the Machine Tool Exposition 1960: numerical controls.

During the show, the president of the National Machine Tool Builders’ Association, Alan C. Mattison, said of numerical controls: “This is a basic development, for it changes the whole concept of present-day production… Rate of production and accuracy are being built into the machine itself.”

The 1960 show also took place concurrently with two other exhibitions: The Production Engineering Show and The 2nd International Coliseum Machinery Show.


2000 – IMTS in the New Millennium

The International Manufacturing Technology Show received the name we know today in 1990. In the year 2000, IMTS hosted over 100,000 visitors across 1.4 million sq. ft. of space. A total of 1,354 exhibitors showcased the latest manufacturing technology, with computer numerical controls (CNCs) now a staple in many booths, rather than the curiosity they had been only 40 years earlier. 

Views from IMTS 2002. (Image courtesy of AMT.)
Views from IMTS 2002. (Image courtesy of AMT.)
In addition to machine controls, computer technology had also suffused the show itself via the rise of the Internet. IMTS.com saw more than a 400 percent increase in website traffic by enabling exhibitors to purchase advertising packages and giving attendees the opportunity to plan their show visits ahead of time.

The following IMTS in 2002 saw a decline in visitors (85,000), floor space (1.3 million sq ft) and exhibitors (1,350) due to a slump in the manufacturing economy and lingering travel concerns after 9/11.

Fortunately, these low numbers proved to be temporary.


2014 – Spotlight on Additive Manufacturing

The 3D-printed
The 3D-printed "Strati" built on-site at IMTS 2014. (Image courtesy of AMT.)
The 30th IMTS was the largest six-day show in the exhibition’s history, with 114,147 registered attendees from 112 countries. The show covered more than 1.3 million sq. ft. of exhibit space and hosted 2,035 exhibitors.

Additive manufacturing was the latest technological development to take the spotlight, with the world’s first 3D-printed car being created on-site in a joint effort between AMT, Local Motors, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Cincinnati, Inc. The finished vehicle was driven out of IMTS on the last day of the show.


2016 – This Year’s IMTS

The IMTS Ride Experience offers show visitors a ride in Olli, a self-driving vehicle from Local Motors featuring IBM Watson, which enables riders to ask the vehicle questions in a normal human voice. (Image courtesy of AMT.)
The IMTS Ride Experience offers show visitors a ride in Olli, a self-driving vehicle from Local Motors featuring IBM Watson, which enables riders to ask the vehicle questions in a normal human voice. (Image courtesy of AMT.)
That brings us to this year’s show, which will include more than 2,000 exhibitors covering 1.3 million sq. ft. of space.

IMTS 2016 will once again be held at McCormick Place in Chicago, along with five other co-located shows:

What will be the talk of the show this year?

There’s already a fair amount of buzz surrounding “Olli,” a self-driving shuttle from Local Motors. Although it’s not strictly speaking a manufacturing technology, taking a ride in a self-driving vehicle should make for an unforgettable experience for IMTS 2016 attendees.

For a more in-depth history of the show or to register (if you haven’t already), visit the IMTS website.

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