With live events back on the table, we asked a panel of industry leaders what they have most missed about face-to-face networking and exhibitions, ahead of Digital Manufacturing Week in Liverpool next month.
What have you missed about live events?
Nicole Ballantyne, Knowledge Transfer Manager Manufacturing, KTN:
I’ve missed eye contact, genuine smiles, handshakes, hugs and honest interest beyond the direct question. I’ve missed the buzz of seeing new stuff, asking lots of questions, touching and feeling things, starting with the question ‘tell me what you do’, and the anticipation of not having much of a clue as to where the conversation will twist and turn onto next, then making unexpected, diverse connections, acting on them, and knowing I’ve affected positive change.
Gerard Bartley, Data Governance and Management Consultant, BMI Group:
Meeting the delegates and exhibitors! Without that face to face contact it is much harder to get to know people, understand their challenges, learn from their experiences and share their enthusiasm.
Scott Houghton, Head of Automation and Robotics, BCW Manufacturing Group:
I have missed the interaction between like minded engineers and being able to discuss new equipment and its potential application to my field.
Simon Reid, Head of Sectors, Growth Platform:
After 18 months of Teams and Zoom it’s great to get back to face to face networking and actually meeting people in person. You can’t beat the random nature of live events where you bump into people in the queue for a sandwich or see people you have been meaning to call for months. Teams and Zoom is so structured, there is no spontaneity. Also there are people I have been working closely with during the pandemic I have never met in real life – that is something I am really looking forward to!
Nick Hussey, CEO, Hennik Research:
I think as humans we are social animals, and you just can’t beat face to face interactions with people, you also miss out on seeing body language and empathy which you just can’t get over conferences calls such as Teams or Zoom. So, I’m really looking forward to being face to face with people and having proper in depth and fun conversations.
Grace Gilling, Managing Director, Hennik Research:
Face to face human interaction – it’s not the same through a screen! Listening to a presentation or panel discussion from the stage is so much more engaging, and striking up conversations is much more natural! This year I am excited for the evening Top 100 and The Manufacturer MX Awards events to be live, as you can feel a lot more of the celebratory energy in the physical room as opposed to the digital – it’ll be great to have industry back together again celebrating the Best of British manufacturing.
What’s your fondest memory from any trade show or networking event you’ve attended in your manufacturing career?
GB: Watching my team grow from being delegates to speakers at a technology show.
NB: Maybe not ‘fondest memory’, but a show highlight that is unforgettable has to be from Hannover Messe quite a few years back when I was working for an OEM. I was there with my posse of male colleagues and The Weather Girls were singing It’s Raining Men – hilarious in such an environment. I have high hopes for the live entertainment at the TMMX award ceremony.
SH: I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the MACH engineering conference at Birmingham NEC pre-covid. The largely varied display of equipment and solutions was very interesting. I also enjoyed the social aspect of discussion around a stall bar or food area.
NH: I think my best memory is from about three years ago – trying to walk down Innovation Alley and it being absolutely jam packed with people and the conversations, the buzz and the excitement was just fantastic. I say ‘try’ because I couldn’t move – it was that busy. But it was just fantastic and really felt as though we were changing the way manufacturers were thinking about innovation and developing their products and services, as well as driving their businesses forward. That for me is a really fantastic memory and I love Innovation Alley!
SR: It is probably the disco at the end of each of the MX Awards since Digital Manufacturing Week moved to Liverpool. Many awards dinners are a bit stuffy but not this one. I’ve seen some amazing dancing (!) but more importantly the manufacturing community really enjoying themselves and celebrating all that is great about UK manufacturing.
GG: For me it’s the opening of Smart Factory Expo each year on day one – seeing everyone’s hard work come together to create this exciting show full of amazing exhibits and interesting companies is a great feeling!
Is there something about the ‘physicality’ of the manufacturing sector that makes in person exhibitions particularly valuable?
NH: Yes I think so, I think manufacturers aren’t naturally the most outgoing bunch of people. There is a tendency, and I’m stereotyping here, for manufacturers to be quite serious, analytical and relatively speaking, not massively outgoing, so what I love about manufacturing events is that you actually overtime begin to see them relax and enjoy themselves. You start to see them become very animated and passionate about what they love – the products, the services and solutions.
NB: Yes – a picture says a thousand words, and a real physical object is one step even better. I think engineers need to touch and feel and press and test their hand/brain connection. The honesty of face to face communications, the cacophony of emotional intelligence signs and signals, and the ability to relate, empathise and connect – I can’t wait!
GB: Yes. It is the ability to get hands on with the technology being shown by the exhibitors and really understand how it works.
SR: Manufacturing has had to keep going during the pandemic. Yes, some things have transitioned to remote working but in the main factories kept producing goods throughout. There is a place for digital events but in my experience a lot of manufacturers like to come together to network, exchange ideas and do deals.
SH: A key aspect of deciding on the implementation of new equipment is to observe a visual demonstration of its capabilities. Exhibitions are a prime place to see what is new on the market and make a comfortable decision based on the demonstrations given.
GG: 100% – manufacturers want to see the solutions they are interested in first-hand. Yes, there are lots of digital solutions on show that could be demonstrated through a screen, but seeing how they integrate with hardware and speaking immediately to knowledgeable representatives is much more efficient in person. There is a strong desire to for people to “do business” face-to-face, and the serendipity of seeing technologies or meeting individuals that you are not searching for is very hard to replicate in a virtual environment.
What is the key thing you are looking to take away from DMW?
NH: A renewed determination to succeed as UK manufacturers. We’ve had a horrific period and the whole idea of ‘Build Back Better’ really resonates with manufacturing. There is an opportunity now for manufacturing businesses to really think about what they do, why they do it, how they do it, what their product longevity is, what their service intentions are and what they intend to do with their product at the end of its useful life.
NB: This will be the third year I’ve been involved with Innovation Alley, and we’ve seen it grow and develop over that time. The continued support of IUK, and the Made Smarter Innovation programme has ensured this
year is no exception. We are recording and sharing real stories of impact that being on ‘the alley’ has had on start-ups and scale ups – this is so rewarding, and even though my part in the mega-machine is so small, I feel I’ve had an impact, I’ve effected change, I’ve done something positive – and that puts a smile on my face!
GB: I am really keen to get a feel for the emerging trends in the marketplace that will shape the next few years.
SH: My key intent of visiting the Digital Manufacturing Week is to make connections with engineers within a similar field to myself. I wish to discuss their projects over the past 12 months and identify the solutions they have used to fulfil the requirements of the task.
SR: To celebrate the resilience of UK Manufacturing during a very turbulent year and a half. It’s incredible how hard the industry has worked to keep production going, implementing whole new protocols to ensure staff safety, interacting with customers and suppliers in a new way and dealing with fluctuating demands (not to mention Brexit, supply chain issues and now spikes in energy prices). I am looking forward to people coming together and sharing their experiences, best practice and ideas and seeing the role of technology and innovation in how the sector moves forward.
GG: First-hand insights from our amazing speaker line up – there’s so much to be learnt!
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