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Time for Some Speculation

Following its somewhat controversial affilation with ConExpo, NFPA's future plans for IFPE are generating much interest.

This seems to be the season for anniversaries, as many fluid power companies celebrate decades of service. This year also marks the 30th anniversary of IFPE, which was launched by the National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) in 1988. IFPE 88 brought together scores of hydraulics, pneumatics, and related companies exhibiting at McCormick Place East in Chicago. It also hosted the National Conference on Fluid Power, which began as a standalone event way back in 1946. The NCFP provided a forum for attendees to learn about the latest developments in fluid power technology from experts in industry and academia from around the world. Naturally, IFPE immediately became the fluid power event in North America.

When first launched, IFPE occurred only once every four years. Having it come around so infrequently made it special, and if you missed one, you’d have to wait four years for the next—meaning an eight-year drought. IFPE continued to be successful in 1992, 1996, and 2000. I remember some people at fluid power companies suggesting that holding IFPE every four years wasn’t frequent enough. It was successful for them, so they wanted to hold it every two years. Others, though, thought that holding it every two years would dilute the pool of attendees and exhibitors, making each occurrence less successful.

NFPA had its own concerns. It is, first and foremost, an association of manufacturers, not a trade show management organization. Therefore, NFPA was not well equipped to promote and manage a big trade show. I think those of us who attended these events would all agree that NFPA did a superb job in putting on a great show and conference every time. But behind the scenes, it must’ve really put a strain on the NFPA staff, who had to conduct business as usual while also taking care of the many issues that would have come up running a large show and conference.

Then NFPA announced a change after IFPE 2000: The next IFPE would be held in 2002, and from then on, it would be held every three years. The change was necessitated by having IFPE held in conjunction with ConExpo/ConAgg, held every three years and the largest trade show held in North America in 2017. Obviously, then, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), is well-equipped to manage a large trade show. This was great news for many exhibitors because it presented a compromise between those who wanted to keep IFPE at its four-year frequency and those who wanted to move it to every other year.

However, holding IFPE in conjunction with ConExpo created some ramifications. I’ve heard some company officials complain that IFPE gets lost in the huge venue that is ConExpo. ConExpo consumes the entire Las Vegas Convention Center, consisting of several exhibit halls and acres upon acres of outdoor exhibits. IFPE, on the other hand, takes up about one half of one floor of the Convention Center’s South Hall. Still, being part of ConExpo is great for companies that offer hydraulic components, assemblies, and other products and services focusing on mobile equipment because they have direct access to a huge number of potential and existing customers.

However, IFPE’s affiliation with ConExpo leaves many companies that deal primarily in industrial hydraulics, pneumatics, factory automation, and electromechanical drives alienated. Other conversations I’ve had reveal that NFPA has attempted to address this concern by partnering with Pack Expo, a major industry for pneumatics, factory automation, and electromechanical drives. However, PMMI, which produces Pack Expo, has not embraced any such partnership. NFPA has had a bit more success in partnering with IMTS in providing another venue for companies focusing on applications other than mobile equipment.

This discussion is not intended as a history lesson. Rather, it’s in response to a brief survey conducted by NFPA to member companies for gathering input about trade shows. It made me wonder if NFPA is considering major changes or even replacing IFPE with some other event. I heard from Eric Lanke, NFPA’s CEO, and he assured me that plans for IFPE 2020 are proceeding as scheduled, but we might expect an announcement about some additional event in the future.

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