Automate/Promat 2017

Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending my second Automate and Promat show in Chicago. I wrote an earlier post on the Automate 2015 show, but when I went back and re-read it I realized that I actually wrote it before the show, so this should serve as a more complete report.

I had really not planned on attending originally, but CFE Media (publisher of Control Engineering, Plant Engineering and a couple of other magazines) had a conference on Marketing to Engineers that I wanted to attend. Since that was on the first day of the show, I figured I’d hit both at once. Several of the articles on this blog have been picked up by Control Engineering magazine, so this was also an opportunity to meet some of the editors.

The Marketing to Engineers conference was held in the Renaissance hotel in downtown Chicago, so I stayed there. Most of the people attending the conference were marketing people, which makes sense in retrospect. Since I am revamping my Automation Consulting, LLC website trying to attract students for my PLC and automation classes, I hoped to pick up some good information. I did, but it also reinforced the difference between the thinking of marketing types and engineering types. So much so that they even had a couple of panels of engineers to grill on their thought processes!

Delicious Grilled Engineers!

The next day (Tuesday, April 4) my wife and I showed up early at the McCormick Center to meet Gary Mintchell, publisher of The Manufacturing Connection. Gary was a founding editor at Automation World and was kind enough to be one of my book reviewers for Industrial Automation Hands On back in 2013. Gary had already been at the show Monday, so we were able to connect before he left for home. Since he usually has his finger on the pulse of lots of automation news, he was able to fill me in on the breaking news that ABB will be acquiring B&R Automation! This is a pretty big deal in the automation world and it certainly strengthens ABB’s hand in industrial controls!

Later on I also ran into Doug Alward, Applications Engineer from Doerfer. For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, he wrote several Lessons In Automation on the demise of small machine building companies while I was in Central America back in 2012. Doerfer had a display at the show along with lots of other integrators and machine builders.

The show started at 10am. The Automate show (mostly focused on machine vision, robotics and motion control) is on one side of the concourse, while Promat (mostly focused on material handling) is on the other. The show lasts from Monday to Thursday; since I was only attending one day I made it a point to visit most of my favorite vendors first. On the Automate side I visited Siemens, Beckhoff, SMC, Keyence, Omron, and lots of robot manufacturers (more on that later). Here are a few pictures from the first half of the day:

Parker PAC
Pallet Conveyor
Rexroth SERCOS demo
National Instruments stuff
Cognex “Smart Camera” dude
Siemens demo
Omron Machine Vision
SMC 4 Axis Controller

Notable for NOT being there as usual was Allen-Bradley/Rockwell Automation. They have their own trade show, the Automation Fair, with all of their “encompass” business partners. In my opinion they are missing out on a great opportunity to get their products in front of a different audience. Its not like Milwaukee is that far away or anything… There are a lot of people who don’t attend more than one show a year.

A few takeaways from this show:

1. There were a lot of integrators and machine builders. In some cases it was difficult to tell what a vendor was advertising, their services or a product. Quite a few machine vision and data acquisition integrators. I also talked to a guy using a Raspberry Pi microprocessing platform for his machine vision and HMI interface; this is a first for me in the industrial world. With all the talk about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) we are bound to see more of this kind of thing. Arduino will probably be showing up here and there also.

2. There were many more Chinese vendors this year, from robots to contract manufacturing. I don’t usually see many Chinese manufacturers at trade shows.

3. The shows appeared to be more well attended and larger than two years ago. Maybe the economy is improving for manufacturing?

4. There were LOTS of robot manufacturers and integrators. Other than different colors, there wasn’t much to differentiate them from each other.

Fanuc Candy Bot
Omron bought (Bot) Adept
Fanuc Robots and Yellow People
Robot with a Big Head
My wife with her new friend

Overall it was a pretty cool show, but one a year is probably enough for me. Lots of fun stuff and a good opportunity to network, but as far as products or new technology nothing really reached out and grabbed me. Still, its a great way to keep up with what’s going on in the automation world!


Electrical Engineer and business owner from the Nashville, Tennessee area. I also play music, Chess and Go.