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Structural Integrity: Extrusions innovation makes the world go round


Every entrepreneur has heard this statement — In order for a new product to be successful, it needs to solve a problem. Beginning with their development in the 1960s, extrusions systems have continued bringing solutions to exhibit houses and end users everywhere.

Highmark TechSystems engineers extrusions in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Highmark TechSystems engineers extrusions in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Since the spread of extrusions systems throughout Europe, stand builders have been able to construct structures on the show floor quickly because move-in times are arduous and exhibit houses rarely store properties for their clients. In the last 50 years, systems have also prompted efforts to reduce waste associated with ‘build and burn.’

North America-based exhibit houses and their customers have reaped benefits from using aluminum systems, such as reduced labor and material handling costs. Extrusions systems are also a space saver in the shop, and they can be easily crated and shipped at a lower cost than custom hard-panel exhibits.

The growth of the exhibitions industry throughout the Asia-Pacific region also prompted the need for a sustainable solution. Engineering companies enhanced the capabilities of their extrusions systems to create innovative, environmentally friendly designs. On the other hand, some unethical manufacturers in the region have taken shortcuts to sell and export extrusions systems that infringed on patents held in other countries.

There’s no doubt that extrusions systems have had an impact on the global tradeshow industry and are here to stay. Manufacturers have become key suppliers. Many sustain their growth by engineering extrusions systems and related accessories.

Here’s a closer look at the development of extrusions systems across the globe:

EUROPE

OCTANORM USA President and CEO Norm Friedrich stated that Europe’s extrusions industry has become soft and points to the economic issues within the European Union.

“The systems market in Europe is quite mature, and the amount of material owned by the exhibit houses is vast. They use this inventory over and over because these products last forever. This has allowed them to remain active and competitive during some difficult economic times,” he added.

In the past, Switzerland, Germany and Sweden dominated the extrusions industry. By the time major players emerged from North America and Asia, many European manufacturers were long established.

“The Germans have a reputation for providing a high-quality product and take great pride in the finish and tolerance of their extrusions. Much of this has been duplicated by the U.S. manufacturers since products sold in a global market need to have a global standard,” stated Friedrich.

Technological advances in extrusions systems were seen in the 1960s in Germany. These innovations allowed exhibitors simpler, less expensive ways to exhibit.

Presently, major European manufacturers are parent corporations to many of the systems providers around the world.

NORTH AMERICA

It was only logical that after growing their presence in Europe, systems manufacturers in Germany, and Belgium in recent years, soon expanded to North America via licensing agreements and subsidiaries. The U.S. especially was considered an important market because of its ever-rotating show schedule.

Initially, extrusions systems were slow to gain acceptance in the U.S., according to Friedrich, but at the moment, the industry is stable and continuing to attract worldwide interest.

“Naturally, for many businesses, global expansion is simply a logical growth path. For the EU exhibit system providers, this is also a strategy to protect and establish their brands worldwide by early market penetration — particularly into the North American and to some extent into the Asian markets,” stated Debbie Parrott, president, Highmark TechSystems.

OCTANORM Maxima light  round and square extrusions.
OCTANORM Maxima light round and square extrusions.

While segments of the U.S. market remained tied to overseas entities, domestic manufacturers entered the market.

“Today, U.S. systems manufacturers focus on the development of their own products and brands [and] have become major players in the industry,” commented Parrott. “The level of design and innovation of the North American systems manufacturers is rapidly catching up, and in some areas — such as structural and multi-story systems — surpassing the EU brands.”

Parrott added that American manufacturers brought modular systems to the forefront, a move that proved helpful in lowering expenses associated with exhibiting.

Although they compete in the overall markets, North American and European manufacturers both have a major concern – patent infringement.

ASIA-PACIFIC

Based in Dusseldorf, Germany, LT-Systems Europe GmbH CEO Marcus Faust collaborated with his LINGTONG (LT) colleagues in China to discuss how the need to exhibit sustainably has sparked innovation throughout Asia-Pacific’s extrusions industry.

“The current situation in Asia is thriving. Currently, the global aluminum production technologies are very advanced, especially in China, with the world’s leading production technology and the largest production line,” added Faust. “China, Japan and Korea governments attach great importance to environmental protection. The use of [the] aluminum exhibition system is rising.”

As the design director for Singapore-based Kingsmen Exhibits Pte Ltd., Crystal Chu has seen how extrusions systems are expanding exhibit design capabilities.

Extrusions chart 2_KObeng“Extrusions these days are increasingly flexible, thus providing opportunities to create more innovative designs. Increased flexibility enables designers to play with configurations for more angled, curved and organic designs. In Asia, some positive trends include an increase in more sophisticated extrusions, and clients are starting to opt for extrusions as a sustainable option to be environmentally-friendly while saving costs,” Chu explained.

Legitimate extrusions systems manufacturers in the Asia-Pacific may be overshadowed by those who copy proprietary systems and sell them for lower prices.

“There are hundreds of companies or factories copying [the] OCTANORM system in China and are selling everywhere with lower quality and lower prices,” stated Howie Wu, managing director, OCTANORM ASIA.

As a China-based systems manufacturer holding 200 patents, LT had to correct false perceptions of its products after expanding to Germany through its subsidiary LT-Systems Europe GmbH.

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