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20th anniversary preview: Presence of aluminum grows on tradeshow floor

In 1935, Pabst was the first major brewer to begin selling beer in aluminum cans in America, and soon the move became a big hit. Not long after that, other brewers and soda companies quickly caught on, making the cylindrical shape a mainstay in many refrigerators.

Aluminum’s abundance and convenience quickly made it a popular replacement of heavier metals, glass and wood in many household and commercial uses at the turn of the century. Foils and kitchen utensils, as well as parts of airplanes, rockets and other items that require a strong but light material, began to use aluminum as the metal of choice.

Over the last decade, aluminum extrusions have taken a strong hold in the tradeshow and exhibitions industry as well. While some exhibitors continue to opt for a traditional wood build, the manufacturing of aluminum extrusions has evolved to make it a compatible and feasible choice for exhibitors around the world.

“Extrusions are used in tradeshow booth design because of the numerous profiles available, in addition to their ease of assembly,” said John Dougan, consultant for SOURCE LLC retail design and manufacturing company. “Most extrusions are connected using an internal clamp or jaw, using a simple Allen wrench, which helps lower costs on the installation labor.”

Dougan began selling graphic programs and fixture components in 1984, and said a major change in the use of extrusions has been the silhouettes and profiles becoming more sophisticated.

Exhibit houses know that extrusions can now not only be used as the actual framework for the booth, clad with other materials such as wood, Plexiglas or fiber, they can also be a visible design element. Unique shapes and powder coating can transform an extrusion to be more aesthetically pleasing in the design, whereas they used to be strictly structural.

“You can still use the extrusion for structural capabilities, but you can change the color so it’s more of a complementing accent to the company’s graphics,” said Kevin Carty, vice president, Classic Exhibits.

Along with the advent of large, tension fabric graphics came the need to support them – and aluminum extrusions can be exuded up to lengths of 24 feet, with the support for the graphic built in.

“Historically, aluminum extrusions were used primarily as basic structural elements that weren’t a part of the actual design of the booth, Carty said. “Toward the end of the ‘90s, exposed aluminum extrusions being a part of the design element of an exhibit really hit the ground running.”

Because of the demand to integrate extrusions into the actual design of the booth as well as structural framework, Carty said his company went from having around 20 profiles available to more than 220 in the last few years.

“The advent of the dyesub in fabric graphics really changed the way graphics were being applied,” Carty continued. “Fabric graphics give you the ability to have these huge graphics, where before you were limited to the center infill. Now, you can slide the graphics right into the aluminum profile, giving a nice, seamless look.”

“Dyesub” refers to the process of dye sublimation, or printers that use heat to transfer dye onto print media, allowing exhibitors to create large, continuous graphics.

Carty said that aluminum extrusions can be the way to go for exhibitors who are looking to rent a booth, reuse it annually or who are simply looking at cost-saving measures as opposed to building with heavier materials.

“Transportation costs are lower as the aluminum extrusions weigh considerably less than steel components,” Dougan said.

As technology needs continues to advance, not only are aluminum extrusions used more in design capabilities, they are now integrated into the support of smaller structural elements such as iPad stands, reception counters and other work stations in a booth.

“A large percentage of those things are made with aluminum extrusions because, again, they are lighter weight and you can break them down easily,” Carty said. “If the aluminum starts to show wear and tear, the good thing about it is that you can have it reanodized and powder coated, so you can always get it back to its original color.

“We actually have the very first aluminum extrusion that we used in the early part of 2001, and that booth is actually still being used today, 13 years later.”

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