Courtesy of Tux-Lab, I got a chance to attend WESTEC 2017 on a free exhibits-only pass. Sort of like how I got in SIGGRAPH 2017 exhibits. And just like SIGGRAPH, I was not the target audience and much of the show went over my head. Half of the time I would stare at a company’s booth and be at a complete loss as to what their product or business was. Fortunately, since I attended on the third and final day with tapering traffic, most of the exhibitors had spare time to explain what they do. The marketing manager for SW was even nice enough to chat about career and life advice on dealing with people in general. Well above and beyond the treatment I had expected for someone not remotely a prospective customer.
But it’s not all gawking. I had hoped to find a few businesses that might be interesting to work with, and fortunately there were some vendors present who are willing to work with small volumes and short production runs. In fact, a few places specifically cater to it. Roncelli is just down the street for machined plastic components, and Hilltop across town is similar for metal. If I’m willing to have the product shipped, there are smaller shops like Avid Product Development and large operations like Proto Labs. Proto Labs feels like Shapeways, but instead of jewelry and trinkets, they cater to making precision parts for actual products and have the infrastructure (and price tag) to match.
But those were the exceptions. For the bulk of the vendors I’m just there to look at the nifty machines. The Vollmer Vgrind 360 caught my attention because it was “backwards”: The carbide cutting tool I saw wasn’t doing the cutting – it was being cut by precision grinding wheels. Another CNC grinder was made by a machine tool company named Haas, but it has no relation to the Haas machine tool company I knew of. Fortunately I was assured I’m not the first person to get confused.