The biggest ProMat in history

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by Emily Atkins

Manufacturing and supply chain professionals gathered in record numbers in Chicago at the recent ProMat 2017, the largest material handling and logistics trade expo in North and South America. With registrations of 44,872 attendees, show producer MHI said attendance had jumped 20 percent over 2015.

The four-day event, April 3 to 6, covered 384,000 square feet of exhibit space on two show floors at Chicago’s McCormick Place, with 956 exhibiting companies. The ProMat expo was once again co-located with Automate 2017.

ProMat visitors included key decision-makers in virtually all manufacturing and supply chain industries including a majority of the Fortune 1000 and Top 100 Retailers. A large number of buying teams from key firms attended.

“ProMat 2017 was the largest in the event’s 32-year history,” said George Prest CEO of MHI. “The energy level among visitors and exhibitors was at an all-time high. Even more exciting was that ProMat visitors came in buying teams with plans in hand and a confidence that has not been seen in manufacturing and the supply chain in many years.”

According to registration data, 85 percent of attendees had buying authority and 39 percent plan on spending $1 million or more over the next 18 months on equipment and systems.

Reflecting the growing global nature of the event, attendees from outside the United States at this year’s ProMat represented 115 countries and six continents.

ProMat 2017 Highlights
Along with the healthy traffic on the show floor, other highlights of ProMat 2017 included the educational conference that accompanied the ProMat exhibition. This included keynotes on supply chain sustainability, Industry 4.0 and NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

Sustainability panelsists Tamara Barker, chief sustainability officer and vice president of environmental affairs, at UPS; Randolph Bradley, technical fellow, supply chain management at The Boeing Company, Rick Bingle, vice-president of supply chain for REI, and moderator Andrew Winston, Sustainability expert and author of Green to Gold, discussed their various companies’ efforts to increase the sustainability of their operations.

Winston noted three megatrends that supply chain managers need to heed: climate change, volatile markets, and millennial attitudes about business. Technology, he said, has given consumers full visibility into products, from cradle to grave, and that puts the onus on manufacturers to tell the story themselves. He cites a “seismic shift” in technology that enables sustainability and makes it imperative for companies to set high goals.

The business case for sustainability is so easy that it’s “boring”, Winston said. Properly done, sustainability initiatives cut costs, reduce risk and promote innovation. UPS, for example, has recently introduced a sophisticated route optimization system, that takes into account not only the stops to be made, but also factors in the importance of each individual stop – the service level commitment for each delivery.

On the same theme of improving transport efficiency, Boeing’s Bradley talked about a new navigation system that permits planes to thread their way through mountainous terrain, following valleys instead of going over the top. This nets a US$50 million savings for Alaska Airlines with its 800-plus flights a year into Juneau, Alaska.

Bingle shared details of REI’s new DC in the Phoenix, Arizona area (for more on that story see MM&D’s January-February 2017 issue, page 28). This LEED platinum distribution centre was designed to be as efficient as possible, for example relying on 24 volt power for 97 percent of the warehouse. Bingle’s advice: Systems thinking is key to success. “You have to start with team vision and knowledge,” he said.

The conference included over 130 show floor educational seminars on a variety of topics and, for the first time, the event featured solution centres with exhibits and education on supply chain sustainability and autonomous vehicles. Webinars of ProMat 2017 educational seminars will be available at

Industry night awards
After receiving a record 153 submissions for this years’ awards, seven judges — all professionals from the material handling and supply chain industry — completed the initial vetting process.

The MHI Innovation Award educates and provides insights on the latest manufacturing and supply chain products and services to ProMat attendees. ProMat 2017 exhibitors were called to submit a new product, product line, technology or service or new application of existing products or technology that create quantifiable and sustainable results in terms of ROI, cost savings, customer satisfaction, and more.

Four finalists were previously chosen and announced as the most innovative products in each category – Best New Innovation; Best Innovation of an Existing Product; and Best IT Innovation based on concept, value, and impact.

On April 3, finalists presented their unique solutions to a panel of judges on the show floor at ProMat 2017.

The 2017 MHI Innovation Award winners are:

  • Best New Product: Proship, Inc for its CVP-500 Automated Packaging System
  • Best Innovation of an Existing Product: EuroSort Inc for the Twin Push Tray Sorter
  • Best IT Innovation: Ubimax GmbH for its Enterprise Wearable Computing Suite.

The winners of the 2017 MHI Young Professional Network (YPN) awards were also announced at the event. The YPN Mentor Award went to Pete Saladis of The Raymond Corporation and the YPN Outstanding Young Professional Award went to Tyler Schmakel of Rasco Industries, Inc.

The Mentor Award is awarded to an MHI member who offers professional guidance, is a positive and inspiring role model, instills and nurtures talent, advocates for employees and supports their professional development and possesses a commitment to the company and its people. The Outstanding Young Professional is awarded to an MHI member under the age of 40 who has displayed professional accomplishments and affiliations, effective leadership skills and contributions to their company and innovation at work or in the industry.

Also at Industry Night, MHI awarded International Technical Coatings (ITC) chief operating officer AriAnne Sproat with the 2017 Face of the Supply Chain award. Sproat started as a receptionist at the company and is now COO. She was recognized for her trailblazing leadership and role-modeling for women in in supply chain over the past 18 years.

ProMat 2017 Student Days introduced students and educators to career opportunities in material handling, supply chain and logistics through hands-on learning and networking with industry professionals. This year’s Classroom Day combined an interactive educational session with a dynamic guided tour of the ProMat show floor and off-site facility tours. Over 200 students and faculty from 40 schools participated in Student Days.

ProMat 2019 will be held at McCormick Place in Chicago  from April 8-11, 2019. The next MHI-sponsored trade event will be MODEX 2018, April 9-12, 2018 in Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center.