By Keith Larson, vp content, putman media
Suppliers of automation technology have long struggled with how best to demonstrate their capabilities to sometimes skeptical—and always time-pressed—manufacturing engineers and executives. Sure, the Internet has changed how automation professionals gather basic decision-making information, but face-to-face interaction still is critical to building the long-term trust required of today’s vendor-user collaborations. Further, engineers and other manufacturing professionals are notoriously hands-on when they choose automation products, wanting to “hold it, smell it, kick it,” as Tom Varney, vice president of communications for Siemens Energy and Automation (E&A), the U.S. arm of the global automation leader, puts it.
One time-honored solution to this set of contradictory pressures is the road show, in which an automation solution provider holds a series of hands-on, face-to-face events at a series of regional venues, thus reducing the time required for a prospect to travel to a single national or international event. Some companies have gone a step further, outfitting a truck or semi-trailer’s interior with an interactive display that can be driven right to a prospect’s front gate.
Siemens broke new ground in the road-show game with its exider train, which toured the U.S. in 2004. The 12-car exider train was an unprecedented marketing effort, visiting more than 100 cities in 24 countries, but nevertheless suffered limitations implicit in its chosen platform. The serial configuration of train cars constrained display space and traffic flow, and the need for accessible rail tracks often dictated inner city display locations, far from manufacturing centers.
Learning from—and topping—its past effort, this summer Siemens brings the exider experience back to the U.S. as the exiderdome—a modular building half the size of a football field, assembled from 55 modular shipping containers that can be moved via ship, train or truck. It makes its U.S. debut July 21-25, at Siemens’ annual Automation Summit in Chicago, and is scheduled to visit nine other major U.S. manufacturing centers through May 2009. (Visit www.exiderdome.com/us for details.)
On a global tour since 2005, the 10,000-sq.ft., three-story exiderdome impresses with its size, scale and technology. The building itself includes seven product demonstration rooms—each featuring a different family of automation and electrical products. Two central atriums are used for receptions, training sessions and multimedia presentations. Conference rooms and an executive lounge complete the building’s facilities.
And while the interactive displays and whiz-bang multimedia presentations are sure to please, Siemens has placed a heavy emphasis on training and learning events focused on the latest developments in security, energy, productivity and other key business challenges. For the U.S. tour, each program is tailored by Siemens E&A to the needs of domestic prospects.
“This tour is about our commitment to the U.S. market and our belief in the long-term strength of American manufacturing,” Varney says. “We want our customers to see that, because of our size and reach, we can offer them more ways to strengthen their operations than any other automation technology supplier.”
The exiderdome itself cost an estimated $7 million to build, with its four-year tour running up a total tab on the order of $70 million. When all’s said and done, it will have hosted 200,000 individuals around the world.
It is perhaps fitting that exiderdome makes its U.S. debut in Chicago, home of seminal architect Daniel Burnham, lead designer of the 1892 World’s Columbian Exposition, who said “Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.”
Indeed, Siemens may not be only global automation company that could devise a road-show as audacious as exiderdome. But it’s probably the only one that would make it for real.