Will the future of trade shows be digital?
One thing is for sure, extraordinary circumstances require creative approaches. Like many trade shows in the Corona year 2020, the SPS – one of the leading trade shows in the area of industrial automation – had to resort to a digital format.
AI-supported matchmaking was designed to enable networking in spite of the restrictions imposed by a global pandemic. By means of an algorithm, participants and exhibitors were matched on the basis of their preferences. Networking and meetings were set to take place in secure virtual meeting rooms.
Attendance below expectations
In spite of this clever concept, only 9,008 participants registered on the platform of SPS connect – according to figures provided by the organizers to “learn about current trends and innovations and expand their professional network”. Compared to 63,798 visitors in 2019 at the then physical trade show, the organizers had to take a drop of up to 85%!
So, don’t let “21,310 networking and 4,166 business meetings”, as quoted in the official communications of the organizers confuse you. If we assume that only 80% of the 63,789 visitors in 2019 visited only one booth, that alone would mean that at least 40,000 “business meetings” will have taken place in 2019!
Reasons for hope
As of today, there is no reason to assume that we will only attend virtual trade fairs in the future. After all, the approx. 54,000 trade visitors (as per the difference in attendance between 2019 and 2020) who have not found their way to the “digital” SPS may well be expected to stroll through the halls of the Nuremberg Trade Fair again once pandemic related restrictions have been lifted.
Stefan Albrecht, Account Manager at Zuken, believes that artificial intelligence cannot replace human interaction – at least not yet. “Especially when it comes to complex capital investment, I missed the personal contact that only a live event can offer.”
Other aspects of the SPS trade fair concept, however, transferred perfectly to a virtual level. “My personal highlight at SPS connect was the exciting conference program, which worked out well in the digital environment,” says Stefan Albrecht.
Zuken was also present with a lecture in the conference program. Under the title “The digital twin in the field of maintenance and customer service for complex electrical systems“, Reinhold Blank, Business Director Automotive & Transportation, outlined the far-reaching opportunities provided by the use of the digital twin of an electrical system in the field of maintenance and service. With more than 80 registrations, the event was exceptionally well attended and was, therefore, an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the potential of digital information channels for complex industry issues.
The bottom line
Not everything that does not work out perfectly on the first attempt is a failure, though. Provided the organizers succeed in refining the digital matchmaking approach – and provided future trade show visitors buy into the new type of making contact – the concept of a virtual trade fair can be a powerful addition to the “analog” trade show. It can even add extra value to it, as proven in the case of the conference program.
So, if you are among those who did not make it to SPS connect 2020, you can at least access Zuken’s presentation about circuit diagrams for service and maintenance. And, who knows, maybe you will even have the choice between live attendance and a virtual meeting next year.
Today's discussions about the digital twin are mainly focused on the areas engineering and production. What is often overlooked is on-site maintenance and customer service.