EMO Milano 2015 – ‘Let’s build the future’ theme embraced by exhibitors

More than 1 600 companies registered to exhibit at EMO Milano 2015. Italy, with more than 500 companies represented, led the ranking in the number of exhibitors, followed by Germany and Taiwan. With 120 000m² of net exhibition space booked and spread across 12 halls, EMO Milano 2015 has exceeded the threshold of 95 000m² of exhibition space occupied by the last edition of EMO Milano (2009).

Housed in the new slick, sprawling Fiera Milano Exposition Centre and promoted by CECIMO, the European Association of the Machine Tool Industries and organised by UCIMU-Sistemi Per Produrre, the association of Italian manufacturers of machine tools, robots and automation systems, provided an opportunity for visitors to experience all the best innovations in the world of machine tools and industry related products and systems.

The exhibition was abuzz from day one as visitors hustled to get to see and experience all of the latest on show from the international and Italian exhibitors. Before even entering the Fiera Milano Exposition Centre, no matter which mode of transport you decided on to get you there, there was an atmosphere of expectation as we bustled with the thousands of people clambering to visit the World Expo, which was being held on the ‘other side of the railway line’ simultaneously. Due to the enormity of EMO Milano 2015, time did not allow one to visit this exhibition.

The biennial manufacturing technology show put style at the forefront of manufacturing’s turnaround. But with 119 industrial robotics companies exhibiting the emphasis is certainly on automation and less labour force for the future (debatable). Robots were everywhere, doing everything. They were lifting cars, handing out toys, running powerful and fenceless in the heart of the human swarms.

Officials hoped that this EMO iteration – the first in Milan since 2009 – would help demonstrate to the world that Italy is officially back in the game after years of financial crisis. Italy is at a crucial stage of its economic recovery and the success of EMO Milano 2015 will certainly be encouraging. This seemed to be the driving point of the event this year.

This message was delivered clearly, and repeatedly, at the opening ceremony/ribbon cutting event that marked the opening of the show.

Waving his arm over the expanse of technologies and machines sprawling across the Fiera, Giorgio Squinzi, President of Confindustria, told the crowd through an interpreter, “This is a strong development in the recovery of Italy.” The show, its size, and its pending success in Italy, he said, are an indication that “the Italian economy is once again capable of coming to terms with global demand.”

“We are aware that there are still problems, of course,” he added. “But EMO Milano is a strong sign of growth and recovery after months and months of crisis.”

Manufacturing is key to this recovery, the panel agreed, and machine tools in particular are a critical element of the Italian manufacturing sector. With over 500 Italian exhibitors at the show – more than any other single country – the panel all seemed to promise that the fine Italian equipment that would greet us in the show would demonstrate the seriousness of the Italian rebound and its readiness for global competition.

It’s impossible to speak on the totality of the show but there was one product premiere that clearly demonstrated Squinzi’s point. The international press contingent gathered on the Italy-based Comau stand where the company unveiled a new machining centre that pushes manufacturing style to a whole new level. This was the first exhibition that Comau had taken part in since 2007 after travelling down some rocky roads in the period since 2007.


A computer-generated depiction of the “factory of the future” Comau’s design might help create


Gleaming white and pristine, highlighted by slick graphics, windows, and mesmerizing LED displays, the SmartDriveComau prototype is a product of collaboration between Comau and the Design team at CNH Industrial. The result is a stunning piece of hardware that is trying to strike an even balance between style and function

Comau is a business unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and used an affiliated FCA business, CNH Industrial’s design team, to develop a new design philosophy for its manufacturing systems, one that will “characterise the DNA of (Comau’s) entire future product range.”

Noting the new design concepts depart from the familiar appearance of industrial automation systems, Comau called the vision “futuristic, contained and attractive,” intending for it to “dictate a transformation of the traditional shop floor environment in terms of quality, precision, cleanliness, and aesthetics.”

It’s impossible to overstate the amount of styling that went into the new machine. The market will inevitably decide whether the functionality of the machine matches its stylistic appeal, but you certainly can’t deny its beauty.

“Comau wanted to do something more modern that reflected the quality of the products that they are manufacturing,” explained David Wilkie, Director of Design at CNH Industrial in a formal release. “The outcome is a transparent, illuminated box, within which the engine or its components are built. The use of transparent materials was inspired by modern glass structures, aquariums and Plexiglas furniture.”

In his presentation at the unveiling, he made this point even clearer.

“You wouldn’t buy an ugly car, so why would you buy an ugly machine?” he asked. “Why work in a dirty, ugly factory?”

The new design, and its focus on extreme style, continued as a trend across all of the other exhibitors. The function-first aesthetics of yesterday’s machines are gone. Instead, machine manufacturers are putting out increasingly beautiful, slick, machines designed to attract new, millennial users in a format they know and trust.

Comau, however, has taken this one step further, not so much making a beautiful machine but an industrial work of art.

The line-up of robots is sending a strong message to the manufacturers who were in attendance. The robots aren’t coming, they’re already here. A whole army of them, in fact, ready to do your work.

Not all of the manufacturers are taking this news well.

At a special foreign journalists press event, EMO Milano 2015’s general commissioner, Pier Luigi Streparava, addressed this concern directly.

He had been asked, he told us, if the overload of robots here is an indication that, as he put it, “men are no longer central to the manufacturing world.”

“This is not the case,” he explained. “This is not what we imagine.”

“We believe that robotics will help the manufacturing center, but man will still be at the center,” he added.

This, of course, is the standard reply. Robots are making work easier, making individual workers more powerful and more efficient. They create jobs, not destroy them.

Streparava is backed up by a statement from Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation.

“Robots certainly aren’t job killers but job creators. Robots help manufacturers stay in business and “employ more people,” he said.

It’s a message that Burnstein said is sometimes met with skepticism.

“I think it scares people,” he said of automation.

However, looking at the technologies at EMO Milano 2015, there are certain undeniable trends emerging in the industry that are making some attendees a little nervous.

Robots are easier to train, they are collaborative and safe. They are armed with sensors and force control to allow them – even the big guys – to work closely with humans, doing simple pick and place tasks and complex, high speed sorting.

They don’t require the same engineering as traditional industrial robotics and they don’t require nearly the floor space or safety accoutrements either.

They are ready for deployment on a massive scale, quickly and easily, and all of them seem to be getting ever closer to human behavior and human capabilities.

So I understand the concerns brought to the commissioner and I understand his need to address them to us. Robots of the industrial world are throwing some serious competition our way.

In addition to the new design concept, Comau introduced several new production process specialities. SmartDriveComau 800L is a horizontal machining center that functions both as a single machining center or as an integrated unit in a flexible production line. Linear motors allow SmartDriveComau 800L to achieve competitive cycle times thanks to their high processing speed, and to accurately maintain this production rate up to five times longer than drive systems based on ball screws. This operating method will decrease the number of machining centers required, according to Comau, which reduces the per-unit production cost per piece. It also reduces floor space requirements, optimizing the plant layout.

Comau also demonstrated its “Safe” robotics technology with the Racer999 robot (7 kg payload, 999mm reach) and a Dual Arm robot concept that uses the newest, compact robot, the Racer3.

Talking about sensors. This was another noticeable theme. Nowadays everything is being monitored and analysed by means of the recently introduced Profinet, a successor in many ways to Profibus. Profinet is the standard for industrial networking in automation. It connects devices, systems, and cells, facilitating faster, safer, less costly and higher quality manufacturing. It easily integrates existing systems and equipment while bringing the richness of Ethernet down to the factory floor.

To sum up there were at least two visionary strains at work in manufacturing technology at EMO Milano 2015. One is practical, involving wider and more complex process automation and information networks. Another is aesthetic, involving high-concept industrial redesign of machining systems and work cells, so that workshops take on the enlightened mood of showrooms.

EMO 2017
The next EMO Hannover will take place from 18th to 23th September 2017 in Hannover, Germany.


Big crowds attended EMO Milano 2015. No final visitor figures were available at the time of going to press but after the first four days of the six day event 106 000 visitors had been recorded as compared to 80 000 for the same period in 2009


The Fiera Milano Exposition Centre


One of the attractions in Milan is the Cathedral, a Gothic Cathedral which is the 5th largest Christian Church


Pilot Tools exhibited at EMO Milano 2015. Some of the team consisted of Riaan Kunneke, Colin, James and Duncan Morrison and Theuns Human


Keith Opperman (centre) of Duncan Macdonald & Co with two of his suppliers: Roberto Tiberti of Evo and Martin Bieber of Reime

Keith Opperman – Duncan Macdonald & Co

“Technology advances the human race. Unfortunately for developing countries like South Africa and BRICS partners it’s not good news at all. Unemployment will be the result of this technology and, if legislation prevents the new technology from entering the country the only way South African companies can compete without technology and save jobs is to have a weakened exchange rate. With that comes higher inflation, petrol prices etc.”

“There were plenty of new technology developments introduced by my suppliers and others. I have one example that I would like to share with you. DIATEST, a leading German manufacturer of high precision tactile measuring solutions, launched their lightweight, self-centering hand measuring tool where a whole engine block, including measuring the diameter, roundness and the ovate forms of bearing seats or connecting rods of e.g. crankshafts, can be measured within two micron repeatability. Whilst the technician is measuring the engine block the data is transferred to an Excel spreadsheet. This real time data will enable the manufacturer to act immediately if there are any abnormal variations. It also replaces a complicated fixture device.”


Oliver Stolper of DMG Mori with Franz Studer of Retecon Machine Tools


Tony Shrewsbury of CGTech Vericut


Marius Conradie of WD Hearn Machine Tools Johannesburg Branch with his wife Tina

Marius Conradie – WD Hearn Machine Tools

“Being schooled at a technical school down in Worcester (THS Drostdy Worcester) I certainly did not think I would be writing something for a magazine one day. Still today the students of the school are known as the ‘Donkeys’, but not in a degrading way. It is a good school with great tradition and they carry the ‘donkey’ name with pride.”

“I believe these technical schools all over the country are still helping to keep manufacturing healthy, and we should be building more of them.”

“I was looking forward to visiting EMO Milano 2015 with great anticipation and excitement and it certainly lived up to the expectation. The Italians undoubtedly organise a good show, and the machine tool industry has not stopped evolving and improving.”

“Something that I will never forget is the stately music that was played between the halls and how it almost re-energised you for the next meeting. Maybe we should try playing it in our workplaces?”

“The country of Italy is amazingly beautiful and I can see why so many stunning products, industrial and commercial, are made there. It is almost as if the picturesque surroundings inspire people to be more creative and hardworking.”

“I want to finish with encouraging this attitude to be instilled in our own country. So many Italian people said to me during our trip that we stay in such a beautiful country with so much potential. I really believe if we can learn to be more productive and work together South Africa will be a must country to visit and do business with. Sho-sho-loza –we push the African train together. My advice would probably be to focus on what you are good at and DON’T watch too much news…LOL.”


Johan Neveling and Graeme Cooper, both of WD Hearn Machine Tools

Graeme Cooper – WD Hearn Machine Tools

“The buzz word this year was Industry 4.0. Essentially it is the move in industry to have access to information immediately from the control to your handheld device.”

“Everywhere you looked the large automotive machine tool builders (Grob, MAG, Heller) were focusing on this subject of immediate access to information of your machine remotely, being able to see what tool is in the machine, what program, what spindle load, what buttons the operator pressed … from anywhere in the world. The integration from IT to machine tools has never been so close.”

“This was the number one theme at Siemens and I believe essentially the reason the machine builders are now able to move on this, is that the control manufacturers are speaking to the mechanics of the machine and interpreting the data in easy to understand pictures and graphs, which the end user can now understand and actually use. This is due to the new active relationship between some IT companies (to one in particular called Mill IT) and the CNC control manufacturers. So to reiterate the IT guys are building apps which interpret the machine info.”

“Other than that, the feeling of robotics and automation has never been clearer on the various stands. There were immense amounts of automatic loading systems (workpiece and tool systems), automatic probing systems, automatic automatic automatic.”

“South Africa has got to keep up with this international trend of automation of factories if we are to become a serious player in international manufacturing.”


Vaughn Hanwith-Horden of F&H Machine Tools with Ralf Baumann of Okuma Europe


Richard Poalses of F&H Machine Tools with Bryan Lee of Takisawa


Lee and Craig Johnson of Multi Tanks


Ray Cooper of WD Hearn Machine Tools, Paul Castle and Michael Spaeth, both of Flow and Peet Buitendag of EJE


Peter Hughes, Tim Gilbert and Chris Riley, all of Toolquip & Allied with Alice Wu of Cosen

Peter Hughes – Toolquip and Allied

“This was my first visit to EMO Milan. We arrived on the Sunday afternoon and after unpacking we caught the underground to the centre of Milan to visit the Cathedral. This amazing Gothic Cathedral is the fifth largest Christian Church in the world and is an amazing building to see. It took six centuries to complete.”

“On Monday we made our way through to the showgrounds. Although smaller than Hanover it was more manageable. The daily commute to the show via the underground was very easy and pleasant.”

“Our main objective on this visit was to meet up with our existing suppliers. We had a planned schedule of meetings over the first three days and we left the fourth day for general viewing. At Toolquip and Allied we import products from across the spectrum, from cutting tools, measuring equipment, abrasives, machine tools, conventional and CNC. Therefore there was something of interest in every hall.”

In the machine tool halls robotics were evident at most of the stands, as wells as 5-axis machining centres and turning centres with driven tools and multi spindles. There was an emphasis on single part handling with these multi-axis, multi spindle machines. The components would be loaded robotically and come off the machine complete.”

“The general consensus from our suppliers is that business worldwide is down and that the factories have a lot of capacity. Delivery times have also improved because of this.”


Chris Kroeger and Mike Lee, both of Retecon Machine Tools with Andy Overton and Nick Blackwell, both of Ficep

Mike Lee – Retecon Machine Tools

“The EMO Milano 2015 exhibition is one of the most important exhibitions where we as Retecon Machine Tools can see all of our supplier’s latest equipment on show. New machinery from high-end measuring machines, right up to the 5-axis simultaneous machining centres, are displayed. The machine tool range is vast and can be broken down into the various categories such as milling, turning, gear cutting / grinding, boring, grinding, tube & wire, EDM, plasma cutters, lasers and presses. Some of our suppliers exhibiting included United Grinding-Studer-Jung-Mikrosa, GF AgieCharmiles, Kasto, DMG MORI, Ficep, Kapp-Niles, Hexagon Metrology Group, Schuler, DEA-TESA, Renishaw, Leica, Mahr and EFD.”

“The world machine tool market is certainly still busy and all of our supplier’s books are relatively full they say. However, their concerns are with the slow-down of the Chinese economy, which is now causing the slow-down of the world economy. Suppliers are also talking about the rail industry in Africa, which is a positive outlook for us in South Africa.”

“Many of our suppliers set up their stands into different sectors, such as aerospace, electronics and medical, with the sectors showing specialised machinery for those specific fields. Automation from raw material to a finished part was also seen as being on the increase.”

“The trip was very informative, and networking with old faces as well as establishing new contacts with all of our suppliers will be beneficial for our company and our clients going forward.”


Paul Savides of PBS Machine Tools with Christian Bara of PCI

Paul Savides – PBS Machine Tools

EMO Milano 2015 was a very satisfying visit this year. Besides meeting all the other agents from around the world who represent Tongtai Topper and other international machine manufacturers like us and discussing and comparing markets and trends in our respective countries, it was also good to see the future of machine tools on display.

From a machining point of view, none of the machines had any new technological breakthroughs. Yet the combination of different technologies used to enhance a machine’s performance and to make what was thought previously of as impossible and is now possible, was incredible to see and experience.

Automation was the big eye opener I think. Robots were everywhere, doing everything. The big difference with robotic automation was the safety that is designed into the operation and performance. Robots will no longer be caged in as all their sensors make it safe for humans and robots to interact and work together.

Industry 4.0 is not here yet, but the Industry 4.0 concept is evolving as are the sensors, microprocessors, computers and the use of the internet to monitor the manufacturing process and machine performance on the shopfloor.


Klaas Salomons (centre) of PBS Machine Tools with Kangta Lin and James Huang, both of PCI, a company within the Tongtai Group


Thomas Zackey of Craft Industrial Equipment

Thomas Zackey – Craft Industrial Equipment

“I have always heard how great and how big EMO was, but to visit the exhibition for the first time and actually see how the European and world market is doing, and what they have to offer was an eye opener for me. To see the technology that they have available for the market, that we can still acquire, is very mouth watering. In fact the whole of the EMO exhibition was very impressive and a must visit.”

“The size of the stands and how everything was set up and done was really good to see first hand and to learn from! It really made me proud to be the agent of Feeler CNC machines in South Africa after seeing the size of the stand that the FFG (Fair Friend Group) had, which Feeler CNC is part of.”

“They had the biggest stand amongst all exhibitors, with just over 4000m², at the biggest exhibition in the world for our industry. It just shows you what hard work and dedication can get you in life. FFG all started with the company Feeler Enterprise and now FFG owns 32 well-known machine brands and has 51 manufacturing centres in 10 major manufacturing countries worldwide.”

“It was also very comforting to see that Feeler is always continuously making improvements to the machines that they manufacture and market worldwide. Their products are now more user-friendly, and this is as a result of always listening and encompassing the feed back from their agents and customers, including us. Feeler strives to always improve their machines in productivity, precision and safety.


Vaughn Hanwith-Horden and Richard Poalses, both of F&H Machine Tools with Robert Seach (centre) of the Hardinge Group


Colleen and Hans-Peter Neth of Retecon Machine Tools


Terry Nichols and Johny Hansen, both of Multitrade Distributors


Just to prove that we were working at EMO Milano 2015. Editor Bruce Crawford (centre) with Graeme and Ray Cooper, both of WD Hearn Machine Tools