Not according to expectations

April 8, 2010
If you're still not convinced that an economic recovery is in progress, perhaps it's because it's often very hard to square emerging facts with our expectations.

The recession is over. According to the Institute for Supply Management, a reliable independent indicator of economic activity, the domestic manufacturing sector expanded in March by 3.1% over the prior month. It was the fastest rate of growth indicated by the ISM’s Purchasing Managers Index since July 2004. With new orders and production rising, it ensured the eighth consecutive month of improvement in businesses that include some important consumers of cast metal products: electrical equipment, appliances and components; miscellaneous manufacturing; transportation equipment; machinery; petroleum and coal products; fabricated metal products; and primary metals, and several more.

If you’re still not convinced about the reality of economic recovery, perhaps it’s because it’s often very hard to square emerging facts with our expectations.

A similar thought occurred to me as I strolled through CastExpo 2010 last month, the most important event this year for the metalcasting sector. What I saw was not what I had anticipated. The exhibits covered less acreage and the crowds were smaller than I’d expected (based on past events.) Still there was plenty to see and learn, including many more relevant facts than could be understood from the spotlights and the signboards.

Time and again it was explained to me that the attendees, in whatever number, included a higher quotient of “good contacts” than many exhibitors had expected. And, according to numerous, reliable accounts, those contacts knew what they wanted and were ready to talk business. If this event didn’t compare to the raucous gatherings of memory, it was a more effective match-up of buyers and sellers. It was a trade show that was all business.

There is more to this, because though the contacts to be made are fewer in number they are also more direct. The nature of the discussions is understandably more focused. The relationships are based on information, as well as awareness. And, while they may be interested to discuss new molding machinery or melting systems, these contacts are just as likely to be inquiring about new technical capabilities and applications that don’t fit in most trade show memories.

For example, I watched a 15-minute demonstration of portable, 3D digital measurement technology, to be used by metalcasters to track the dimensional quality of products. I learned about the advances made by another company that is coordinating automated machine-vision inspection with vision-guided robotics to improve the flow of production processes.

These are random, but representative, examples of products and capabilities that were news to me. Undoubtedly other visitors were enlightened to learn about the continuing expansion in modeling and simulation, process control capabilities, and product quality testing methods.

The expo also was the place to see the effects of perfectly normal business transitions, further indications that the recession is past: companies introducing their applications to the metalcasting sector; new product lines from established brands; and alliances or partnerships forming among equipment providers, to reach their customers more effectively.

This is today’s metalcasting industry: smaller, but broader in the range of technologies that it deploys to produce quality products. It may be an industry with fewer individuals, but they are more focused than their predecessors on their purpose. And their purpose is to develop and deliver castings efficiently, in partnership with suppliers and their customers. If you’re expectation of a thriving metalcasting market involves a dark, cloudy, noisy plant — you’ll have to adjust your expectations. Such places are starting to hum again, too, but there is progress underway in labs and on desktops that are equally relevant.

In the case of the economic recovery now taking place around us, if what you’re seeing doesn’t match your expectations then the only thing to do is to adjust your outlook.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)