By Jacob Barron

If you were there, you saw it. Robotics and plastics manufacturing machinery provider Wittmann-Battenfeld’s booth at NPE2015, the largest NPE in the show’s history, drew in a steady crowd of attendees with an eye-popping, jaw-dropping display of robotics performing the duties of a NASCAR pit crew. There was almost always a crowd at the Wittmann booth in the West Hall, a testament to Wittmann’s products and market position, sure, but also to their savvy understanding of trade show booth design.

The centerpiece of Wittmann-Battenfeld’s booth at NPE2015.

While not every company has the resources to put on a full-fledged robotic racing pit crew in their trade show booth (nor does every trade show have the capacity or space to host as many top-quality, cutting edge displays as NPE), there are some important assumptions guiding the design of Wittmann’s booth at NPE that any company can put into practice when exhibiting at a trade show, whether it’s one as large as NPE or something more boutique.

“We try to excite the senses,” Wittmann CEO David Preusse said regarding the company’s booth at NPE, as well as their overall philosophy when it comes to booth design. “Lots of big, bright signage,” he added.

For Wittmann’s product line, Preusse noted that they virtually build a fully operational molding plant in two weeks for NPE attendees, as they did in 2012 and again in 2015. “We all know attendees like to see these injection molding work cells running. In our case, we want to show molders the possibilities of state-of-the-art technologies, and the continuing Internet of things,” he added. “All of our molding cells are connected, and can be viewed remotely. This means we can service any customer, anywhere in the world, at any time; 24/7 service with our experts.”

Additionally, when it comes to booth design, size matters. A big booth suggests a big company and a big investment in what they’re selling to potential buyers traversing the trade show floor, and a bigger booth design typically yields its own benefits in potential new sales and customer leads. “Attendees want to deal with big companies. They perceive a supplier’s commitment. To be in big arms is one additional important ingredient,” Preusse said. “It’s important to show our size in staffing, with experts from different specialties, for automation, injection molding niche areas such as micro or nano-molding up to large macro-tonnage molding and material handling resin conveying systems and a range of auxiliaries, all of which we own the designs, and we make the products. Attendees want to deal with experts to help them with the best and most innovative solutions for them to better compete both here locally and globally.”

A full view of Wittmann-Battenfeld’s booth at this year’s NPE.

Both of these items are important points, but make no mistake; Preusse and his team know what brought you to their booth, and it wasn’t necessarily the size, or the fact that they had a fully operational molding plant toiling away under Wittmann flags and banners. People came to see the NASCAR booth, and that was entirely the point.

Wittmann has at least a couple NPEs worth of experience when it comes to eye-catching thematic booths. “Attendees are drawn into a booth with action. With robots we can be active,” Preusse said. “In 2012, our guys were able to have our robots dribble basketballs, pass and shoot three pointers. People still watch those on YouTube. It was a large, up high, nonstop activity and it stopped attendees in the aisle. They stared, pulled out their phone and videotaped the show, and they clapped when the robots scored a basket,” he added, noting that the display’s popularity resulted in what, in trade show terms, would be considered a “good problem.” “At one point, show guards came by to ask us what we can do about all the traffic in the congested aisle,” Preusse said.

Topping the 2012 display wouldn’t be easy, but Preusse noted that, like the basketball display from the prior NPE, the company’s booth couldn’t simply rely on something that would appeal to plastics technology and robotics wonks; it had to appeal to any consumer, inside the industry or not. “Don’t get me wrong, the 5D curvilinear precision and powerful programmable control with payloads for these robots certainly help one’s mind to the possibilities, the flexibility, the power and sophistication we can accomplish, so no, we do not desire a circus act,” he said. “We are however, a FUN company.”

The process of planning began more than a year prior to NPE. “Kenny Pond, our lead robot technician, was the leader behind the Basket Ballers for NPE2012, did not want to continue on basketball. Kenny originally was an auto mechanic, out of high school, and he had this idea we could develop a pit crew of robots to change race car tires,” Preusse said. “Kenny made a sketch over a year ago and showed me and our team what he thought was possible. He even had images of booth models in designer pit crew jump suits.”

Wittmann’s executives in Austria weren’t originally sold on the idea, but Preusse urged them to let the team work, allowing Pond and the Wittmann engineering team led by Rob Eselby to develop the idea into something valuable, and the result ultimately was what we all saw at NPE2015.

Attendees stop to watch Wittmann-Battenfeld’s robotic pit crew display in action.

Sure, the booth and the performance contained therein cost Wittmann some money, but one of the advantages, from a budgetary standpoint, of a triennial show like NPE is that, as Preusse’s boss Michael Wittmann said, you have three years to pay for it. More than that however, it’s important to remember that a booth isn’t merely an investment in future business, but an investment in existing business and existing employees and staff. “Honestly, some staff here actually love the chance to change things up from their normal work life, to do something different,” Preusse said. “A show is not just for the attendees, but for our own staff, our sales agents, our field sales and service troops, management and our colleagues from around the globe. Wittmann is in 52 countries. There is a bit of an ego in showing what a team can do when allowed to do great things. NPE is our Olympics.”

In many ways, for Wittmann, the booth isn’t merely an opportunity to bring in new business, but an opportunity to celebrate. “I sent many cheerleading emails when times leading up to the show were getting difficult,” Preusse said. “I pointed out in one email that what we as mankind, can achieve together is one of man’s best possibilities and triumphs to celebrate. NPE is a celebration.”

This attitude was infectious among Wittmann’s staff, and infectious among attendees and visitors to their booth as well. “I think attendees see this. I think it inspires them. It creates positive energy and a buzz,” he added. “And this would’ve been the case, even without one of our 20 truck trailers being stolen in Daytona, then rolling over and totally damaging our show shipment of two molding machines worth over $500k, and only nine days before the opening.”

In short, all the things that made Wittmann’s booth design, implementation and execution were as beneficial for the staff and for Wittmann as they were for the mood of the attendees who stopped by to photograph the company’s robotic pit crew in action. Creating a buzz within the office often translates to a buzz outside of it, a certifiable truth of business and sales that Wittmann’s booth proved throughout NPE2015. “This is marketing,” Preusse said.