I just returned from the Bauma trade fair in Germany. It’s the third time I’ve attended it and I’m even more awestruck than the previous times and I’ll explain why as I go along in this blog.
To begin with the sheer size is probably the first thing that is overwhelming about Bauma. In my three times attending Bauma I’ve never come close to seeing all of it and would need weeks to do so, not just a few days. Organizers said about 530,000 people attended from more than 200 countries, plus 3,420 exhibitors from 57 countries. I’ve heard people say it’s three times ConExpo, if you’ve ever been there, but I think it’s way more than that. To be concise, it took up 570,000 square meters, which is 6.3 million square feet. Does that help? Didn’t think so!
But since it takes place in the old Munich airport — they’ve since built a new one and use the old one for trade exhibitions and other events — I’ll explain it this way and see if it begins to paint a picture. Imagine O’Hare Airport with all the terminals, hangars and runways covered with construction equipment stands and just an absolute sea of humanity everywhere you go, and you can start to imagine it.
Some of the equipment is tremendously huge, and I’m not just talking about Genie’s new 180-foot boomlift that was shown for the first time. That in itself was pretty impressive, and their PR folks, who I hear from fairly often and just saw not so long ago at the Rental Show, did a pretty good job of keeping that one a secret. Caterpillar’s new hybrid loader seemed to get a lot of attention and in the Caterpillar hangar — yes, you heard me right, and that’s only part of their indoor space, not to mention its outdoor stands — there always seemed to be a big line to look at it. There were cranes that were bigger than any I’ve seen before, and some of the earthmoving machines with names and explanations in German or Chinese that I can’t explain very well made 100,000-pound hydraulic excavators seem like nothing special. And that Liebherr dump truck that looked like a three-story building with tires that were 25 or 30 feet high, and there was always a line around the block of people wanting to go inside the machine and take a tour of it, like people do of aircraft carriers and the like. Comparing some of these machines in size to aircraft carriers is probably closer to an apt description than trying to compare them to 100,000-pound excavators.
Another impressive area are the stands — we tend to call exhibits “booths” at U.S. trade shows and I’ve always found the more European term “stands” to be far more accurate. But they include, in truth, buildings. Many companies have two-, three-or even four-story structures that take a couple of months to construct, with offices and conference rooms and even kitchens. Hundreds of companies, if you should happen to get an invitation, serve full-course meals, which they invite their customers to stop by for. We’re not talking about hotdogs, we’re talking barbecued pork or steak or shrimp, salads, vegetables, potatoes or, in many cases, a number of choices. Full bars are not out of the ordinary and beer is served everywhere, with companies having kegs and kegs of it, in seemingly infinite variety. It’s nothing new to tell you that they make good beer in Germany, but there’s a wide variety in abundance at this trade show and it seems to be offered to you everywhere you go at any time of day. You’ve heard the jokes about English and German breakfasts consisting mainly of beer, and it is part of the culture at Bauma too. But they’ll serve you anything you want to drink and if you’re a coffee aficionado as I am, most of the stands, indoor and outdoor, have great espresso machines.
As for attendance, as I said, there were about 530,000, and in certain parts of the outdoor area when you’re trying to walk from one area to another, it feels like they are all right there, just a sea of humanity speaking a lot of German, but also Swedish and Croatian and Portuguese and French and Spanish and Chinese and Korean and a whole lot of other languages and if you aren’t comfortable in international gatherings, don’t come to Bauma. To me that’s much of what makes it interesting, being around such a wide variety of humanity, and it also makes it exhausting as you always seem to be trying to walk through 5thAve. and 42ndSt. at rush hour, or make your way into a crowded subway.
I mentioned at the top I was going to tell you the most impressive thing about Bauma and I still haven’t gotten to that yet. On the afternoon of the first day, in a certain area of the show, I and a colleague noticed that we’d seen hundred of teenagers milling about with skateboards and backpacks on breaks from something, talking and laughing and joking around the way teenagers all over the world do. We wondered what they were doing there and I checked into it and found out that no fewer than 170 German secondary schools were in attendance at programs organized by the show in conjunction with manufacturers. They were given seminars about the equipment and the advanced technology that is used to design it and operate it. They were given tours of the stands and the machines and given an idea of what it takes to build and operate these ever-more-advanced machines.
And I reflected on the lack of such programs in the United States. Does any organization really show the younger generation the kinds of opportunities that could await them in the construction industry? To a younger generation fascinated by the technology in cell phones and computers and x-box games, do they know that there is increasingly advanced technology at play in the design of equipment and systems? I thought about my teenage son and how so many of his days at school are spent in classroom lectures that seem irrelevant to him, learning and memorizing an endless series of facts and dates — as we all do — that don’t seem relevant to the real world. And I thought about how cool that would be if he could spend a school day at something like this where he could learn about the technology and have people show him these amazing machines. How cool it would be to show young people that while they might dream of becoming an NBA basketball player or rap star, they could someday be designing and building an aerial work platform or an excavator or a crane.
Just set me to thinking how we need to design our society and our world in such a way that we inspire and encourage the dreams and minds of the young, so they see there is opportunity and hope and a future for them. And all of this took place in a week where two young people decided to set off bombs during the Boston marathon. I never intended for this column to be about that or to pretend to make a statement about that. But when those kinds of things happen, not to mention some of these mass shootings that have become so commonplace, it makes me wonder if we could do a better job of showing some of the other wonderful things they could learn about, maybe in some small way we can make a difference.