FABTECH 2018 Recap: The Future of Metal Forming, Fabricating, Welding & Finishing

Richie Gibson, Ashleigh Hotz, Jennifer Nietz, Christian Pokrywka, Jason Rager - FABTECH 2018 Team


 
The COACT Associates team was excited to attend this year’s FABTECH from November 6-8, 2018, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

FABTECH is North America’s largest metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing event. This year’s expo brought more than 1,500 exhibiting companies and a total of 33,755 attendees from 75 countries.

With a strong economy, growing domestic and foreign competition, and the ripple effects of President Trump’s tariffs, the industry is undergoing many changes.

Here’s a quick recap of the main themes, takeaways, topics of conversation, and industry trends from this year’s FABTECH.

COACT Associates FABTECH 2018 photo Atlanta Georgia

What were your initial thoughts and impressions about FABTECH 2018?

“My initial thoughts about FABTECH were just how vast and expansive the conference center was. There were three main floors – A, B, and C. A and B were the larger corporations (FANUC, for example, and a fun fact: all of them wore yellow suit jackets for an ultra-yellow brand experience!). I was impressed by how many people were there. I also noticed the amount of serious technology in manufacturing – robotic arms that flow seamlessly, giant machines that are sold on the floor, etc.” – Ashleigh Hotz, Creative Manager

“The show is massive, and the technology for the heavy machinery is really impressive. One of the things that stuck out to me was that it seemed that many manufacturers/OEMs and capital equipment providers are trying to get smarter data-wise. They’re trying to understand operational efficiencies more analytically and have continued to develop improved processes and leverage various forms of automation.” – Jason Rager, Manager of Strategy & Growth

“I was surprised by how many different industries were represented at the show, from welders to metal bending machines to steel cutters.” – Christian Pokrywka, Videographer/Graphics Specialist

“It was extremely busy – a little overwhelming. This was my first time going to an event where there was equipment present. I was impressed by the capital-intensive processes that companies go through to manufacture their products.” – Jennifer Nietz, Vice President

COACT FABTECH 2018 floor photo

What were some common topics of conversation at the show?

“A lot of unique technologies are experiencing new competitors in the same space, so it’s getting to be more competitive. Some examples of these technologies include lasers, hydro-cutting, metal-bending technology, metal-forming, and robots. Also, customers in this space know they need growth now, but they understand that sales cycles take 12-18 months to see their results come through.” – Richie Gibson, Business Development Specialist

“Every time I asked an exhibitor how the show was going, I heard similar things: ‘It’s going well, but we’re not having as much foot traffic this year.’ Instead, people were specifically seeking them out. So, companies were meeting with far fewer people, but the quality of the leads they met with was higher.  The way people buy is different now; they’d already done their research before they went to FABTECH and knew they wanted to see a particular piece of equipment. There’s a need to shift the sale’s team mindsets; they have to be more relationship-driven. Instead of having 30 random leads, you’re getting six people who want to buy.” – Jennifer Nietz, Vice President

“The general sentiment right now is futureproofing their companies. I think many are looking at capital investments and organizational adjustments to set their company up for continued growth and market share capture as they prepare for a downturn, knowing one is inevitable at some point, whenever that may come.” – Jason Rager, Manager of Strategy & Growth

Jason Rager FABTECH 2018 COACT Associates photo image

What were your thoughts about the challenges the metal fabrication industry is facing, how companies can overcome them, and the opportunities they have for growth?

“The main metal fabrication challenges that people talked about were the recruitment and retention of their people – that is, keeping them engaged and there longer – and filling their sales pipeline for opportunities in 12-18 months (what they are doing today to make the next year better).” – Ashleigh Hotz, Creative Manager

“There’s a lot more competition out there from equipment manufacturers – even from smaller job shops. Metal fabrication companies need to differentiate themselves. In all three of the floors at FABTECH, there were booth after booth of people who were extremely similar to each other. The competition is much larger than anybody thinks.” – Jennifer Nietz, Vice President

“They’re all facing similar growth and sales problems. They all seem to be oversaturated in work right now, but people that were saying that didn’t have a reason for it. Their success is very boom-or-bust, based solely on the economy and not on the sales process. Another one of the things that blew my mind away is their performance in sales; many companies had sales gaps or viewed sales problems in their organizations. Also, very few of the companies we met with had organizational goals for their salespeople. They were holding their people accountable and not the sales process. Mark’s speaking engagements got people thinking strategically about how to grow, communicate growth to teams, and develop an actionable plan that is realistic and uses data to set growth goals.” – Richie Gibson, Business Development Specialist

“I think one other common theme was the difficulty finding good people – not only on the operations side and the technical aspects of their company, but on the sales side and the risks associated with hiring and losing someone there. For instance, if the president is handling sales now, and they hire someone to do sales, is the president going to take the time to onboard, train, etc.? And is that efficient to grow a sales arm? That’s a huge organizational development issue for many companies. How do they leverage sales and marketing resources – which are limited to begin with – without the risk of losing that investment to someone offering a higher salary down the road? The answer: a strategic approach and implementation of a process to their sales systems and structures.” – Jason Rager, Manager of Strategy & Growth