Editor’s Comments: Bridging the Gulf

May 1, 2011

How was ConExpo ConAgg/IFPE 2011 at Las Vegas this past month? Well, from where I sit, it was a knockdown drag-out winner.

As a great many other attendees, I arrived in Las Vegas wondering whether the event was going to meet the hopes and aspirations of those who have suffered mightily since the 2008 installment of the nation’s largest construction show, but by an hour into the event it was already apparent that the vast number of attendees already flooding the various venues were not there to lament the past. By midafternoon of the first day, the aisles were jammed, turning the mile-long trek from the far end of South Hall to the back fence of Gold Lot into a journey of epic proportions.

Somewhat to my surprise-and unlike previous ConExpos I’ve attended-this year’s was not a stage for revolutionary new products or machinery. Rather, attendees were presented with what were, for the most part, evolutionary refinements to what they had seen three years before. As such, it was for many a welcome break in what seemed to have been a madcap dash into the future-a sort of Field of Dreams, “build it and they will come” belief-that left many potential customers confused and resistant.

I chalk it up to something very akin to the fighter-pilot prayer, “Lord, I don’t mind dying, but don’t make me look stupid doing it.” Only, here it is: “If you’re asking me to spend my hard-to-come-by money on something I can’t see or touch and don’t understand, I think I’ll take a pass on it.”

As those of you who were among the 120,000 attendees to the event can attest, the heavy focus on training was evident throughout the 2 million square feet of displays. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the dozens of simulators that attracted lines of attendees to the gargantuan equipment pastures filling the Las Vegas Convention Center’s mammoth North Hall.

So if there was one thing that came through loud and clear at the show, it was the recognition by equipment and product suppliers of the need to close the gap between the technologies they have unleashed over the last several years and the relevance these have to the needs of potential users. Indicative of this was the attendance at the 126 training sessions, along with the hundreds of booth-based presentations, as well. Clearly, a large portion of the attendees was there to learn, and in this they were not disappointed.

Equally noticeable was the expressed desire of exhibitors to get closer to their customers, as was the defining focus of the display areas of such industry giants as John Deere, Caterpillar, Topcon, Trimble, and Komatsu, to mention only a few of the several hundred others expressing the same theme.

Not surprisingly, strategies and systems for meeting Tier 4 engine emissions limits-both interim and final-ranked high on the list of priorities for exhibitors and attendees alike, so it was not surprising to find the bulk of the equipment sporting Tier 4i-compliant power plants, and a few meeting Tier 4f as well. While the path to Tier 4f seems pretty well established, I couldn’t help feeling that we might be in for some surprises before the 2014 deadlines arrive…just a WAG on my part.

Though there may have been others that I missed for the sheer enormity of the situation, the only patently new departures were a pair of track loaders from John Deere featuring electric and electro-hydraulic power trains…but even these were overshadowed by the company’s primary focus on getting closer-and listening to-its customers.

So where does this put Grading & Excavation Contractor magazine? Right it the middle of things.

In the past, we have treated training on a regular but relaxed basis…but no more. The lead article in our June Technology issue focuses exclusively on the subject, but that’s only a beginning. Starting with our July/August issue, we will present a regular department on the subject, looking at its many aspects at work throughout the field…another reason to be a Grading & Excavation Contractor subscriber.