Today I spent part of my morning at a trade show booth — in fact, my first time doing so since walking the IFPE show in Las Vegas the first week of March. (It seems like a lifetime ago!) But, I’m happy to report, this venture didn’t require me to get on a plane, book a hotel or cram myself into an exhibition hall full of other people. In the current Covid-19 world, I have little interest in doing any of the above.
Instead, this was the new virtual trade show hall recently unveiled by igus, the German-based motion plastics manufacturer. I was invited to tag along as one of the company’s large customers was escorted around the booth. It was a really interesting experience.
Virtual tradeshows were touted as the next big thing back in the late 1990s and the publishing company I worked for them pushed a ridiculously expensive version of them. (If memory serves, the pricing to own a booth ran from roughly $25,000 to perhaps $60,000). That vision involved awkward avatars moving around a virtual trade floor. And, unsurprisingly, it ended in disaster.
This, thankfully, is a more intelligent way for an individual manufacturer to proceed. The booth is available to any potential customer who requests an appointment through the company’s website. Then, at the agreed-upon time, an igus representative walks you through the booth. Alternatively, anyone can also explore it themselves in “choose your own adventure mode,” using this link: exhibition.igus.eu.
The setup of the system is pretty straightforward. The main screen shows a view of the company’s actual tradeshow booth, currently set up in its Cologne headquarters facility. You can move in any direction to different areas of the booth. Once at a technology area, you can click on any product that looks interesting. A video of an igus expert appears, where he or she describes the item. Most of the videos are a few minutes in length, giving some basics of the product, including how it improves on earlier models or competitive products, and listing some sample application ideas.
A bar on the left side of the screen includes a long industry list of shortcuts to applicable products: medical, agricultural, railway, cranes, robotics, material handling, offshore, packaging/food, and more. You can watch additional videos with experts describing the basics of the appropriate products that can be used in that industry, such as drylin plastics slides for the medical industry. We also looked at echain and cable management products, a sampling of the company’s 3D printing capabilities, and more.
You can always jump in and out of the configurators tab on the traditional igus website, to figure out specific application data. And what I loved was that the videos are all filmed right there at the actual booth. You can hear the various application examples running in the background, and the resulting feel is a very authentic trade show vibe.
This virtual booth was launched in May, and company representatives explained that every single week since, they have been going in and improving the technology based on the customer experiences. After a tour is completed, the customer is emailed a list of appropriate links afterwards, based on what they viewed and expressed interest in.
While I’m not hoping that the tradeshow goes the way of the dinosaur — and honestly, I don’t feel that it will — this is a nice example of how manufacturers and customers can still meaningfully connect in a socially distanced world.