Sticking With It | What Is the Value of Technical Meetings?

Adhesives expert Ingrid Brase muses on recently concluded AIMCAL and ASC fall conferences.

My previous articles have been focused on providing roadmaps to what you need to consider when selecting adhesives. This time we will take a short break from the series. Thought I would share my experiences at two recent trade association technical meetings relevant to the pressure-sensitive industry and what I learned.

Every spring and fall there is a flurry of trade association meetings and shows. It seems like you could spend most of September and October then March to May just making the rounds. With careful research and planning, all of the various meetings can have value. I recently attended the AIMCAL (Assn. of Intl. Metallizers, Coaters and Laminators) Web Coating & Handling Conference and the ASC (Adhesive & Sealant Council) Fall Conference and Expo. Thought I would share some thoughts on both conferences and hopefully provide some insight on their value. They are by no means the only two conferences that are held or have value to the industry, they just happen to be where I spent two weeks this month!

Before discussing each conference separately let me begin by talking about how they are similar. Both offer several tracks of technical papers covering a wide variety of topics. They also both have optional short courses available before the conference sessions commence, allowing interested participants to take a course at the same venue as the meeting. Finally, both have expos or tabletop receptions where attendees can network and suppliers can exhibit their products and capabilities. There were many familiar faces at both meetings, with some companies participating in both but sending different representatives. In both cases the programs allow time for private meetings and networking.

AIMCAL Web Coating & Handling Conference

So first I will focus on the AIMCAL Fall meeting held in Memphis, TN. This was a three-day conference that begins with a keynote and reception on Sunday evening then concludes with a wrap up reception Wednesday evening. The optional half-day short courses were offered Sunday. There were four tracks of papers being presented, the program runs all day Monday, half a day Tuesday, and all day Wednesday. Tuesday afternoon there was an optional golf scramble outing or a tour of Graceland. The break on Tuesday afternoon gives attendees a chance to enjoy the venue, network, and re-energize to take in all the tech content again on Wednesday. Monday evening vendors were offered the chance to do an “infomercial” and compete for the AIMY Award, which is offered to the vendor that presents the most entertaining infomercial providing a bit of fun to the serious technical presentations.

So with that background, what’s the value to someone in the pressure-sensitive industry? As the name suggests, the focus of the Web Coating & Handling meeting is just that; this is mostly focused on the “how” and not on the materials. There were separate tracks on Web Coating and Web Handling. The latter covered slitting, winding, static control, etc. These are all issues that a coater/converter needs to deal with once the material to be coated is on the web. The Web Coating track focused on coating equipment, surface analysis, measurement, etc.; all aspects of ensuring the best coating of materials possible. The other two sessions focused on flexible packaging and vacuum coating. There is also a joint new technology session that covers a variety of topics. At this meeting, the topics included papers related to barrier coating in lithium ion batteries, transparent conductive films, and microgravure coating techniques.

While my main expertise is adhesives, the papers offered have always enabled me to get a perspective on the complexity of taking those adhesives and delivering the final product. There were several papers at this conference that I found very informative, I am sure there were others I might have learned from but you can’t be everywhere at once! Joe Heinemann of Rayven talked about the Frugal Coater, providing some insight into making the decision between buying new and used as well as considering off shore manufacturers. It was a very practical and pragmatic discussion of the factors that one needs to weigh when considering these larger investments.

Naoki Rikita of MMC Ryotec introduced a new high precision slot die for manufacture of optically clear adhesives in his paper, “Optimization of LOCA Gap Fill Process by High Precision Slot Die.” Rikita had excellent photos and video of the slot die being used to make these very thin high precision coatings.

Jennifer Heathcote of Phoseon presented a view of the future in her paper, “The Growing Viability of UV LED for Wide Web Coating Applications.” UV LED technology is at the early stages of use in wide web coating but Jennifer shared insight into current development that indicates that it will soon be a valuable method to consider as an option. There was an entire afternoon session on testing and measurement, all six presenters not only described various techniques and equipment, they also had several case histories explaining how they were applied in manufacturing settings.

In summary, the AIMCAL Fall meeting offered an opportunity to have a great overview of equipment and processes related to the coating of pressure-sensitive adhesives as well as networking with the company representatives and coater/laminators who actually create products with adhesives.

ASC Fall Conference and Expo

So now let’s move to a discussion of the ASC Fall Conference and Expo. This event was held in Indianapolis, IN, and spanned two days. The meeting started with a welcome reception on Monday evening followed by papers all day Tuesday and Wednesday morning. Each day began with a breakfast keynote focused on business topics including an economic overview and marketing insights. The program wrapped up with a lunchtime keynote on the changing competitive environment followed by an open forum discussion. Like AIMCAL, ASC offered a short course prior to the meeting, theirs being a bit longer at 1½ days versus the half-day AIMCAL programs. On Monday attendees also had an opportunity to participate in ASC’s “Give Back” program. In partnership with the local United Way, ASC staff scheduled a volunteer opportunity to work on special projects at the local Francis W. Parker Montessori School. More than 45 attendees spent Monday afternoon at the school, having a unique opportunity to network in a very different atmosphere.

So this conference offers a very different value proposition to a member of the pressure-sensitives industry. The conference attendees are mostly adhesive and raw material suppliers, so the focus is on these materials rather than on process. Business Developments and Market Trends, Technical and Government Regulations, and New Technology and Application were the tracks offered with sessions covering Waterborne Formulations, Key Feedstocks, and PSA Technology as well as others.

Zachary Moore of ICIS presented insight into the market outlook for key raw materials in his paper, “An Overview of the Aromatics Chain” in the Business Development track. The PSA technology session covered the full spectrum of adhesive technology.

Paul Dailey of TSRC Dexco Polymer discussed how structure of the rubber component of a hot melt formulation impacts performance, while David Schulenberg of BASF talked about the water resistance of water-borne adhesives. Nader Mazloom wrapped up the session with his paper, “Solventless Silicone Pressure-Sensitive Adhesives” after Massimiliano G. Penon of Lawter talked about high melting point dispersions. The Tuesday evening expo offered an opportunity for networking with more than 65 suppliers present at booth to discuss their offerings and services.

The morning keynotes on both days were focused on the business side. Robert Fry, chief economist of Robert Fry Economics LLC, was the opening session presenter. Robert is well known for providing excellent insight into the outlook for the global economy and its impact on markets of interest to the pressure-sensitive industry. He talked about the impact of low oil prices and forecast that pricing will stay relatively flat, something he feels is a good thing for the overall economy. While he felt growth was disappointingly slow, his statistics on the U.S. economy showed growth and potential in 2017. In contrast China has the challenge of trying to evolve from a manufacturing and trade-based economy to a consumer-based economy. Europe and Japan have the task of improving productivity as their populations have peaked and are in decline.

On Tuesday morning, Alan Isacson of ABI talked about sales and marketing strategies focused on the value of high tech products rather than price. This presentation in particular resonated with me as he discussed how to pitch new products. His basic premise was focused on pitching the attributes of a new product and why the customer should care versus a long discussion on the cool science. The attendees came together for a final keynote after attending individual tracks. Nat Brooks of Strategy Shapers LLC did a presentation then led a discussion on the “Age of Zero-Sum.” Among the topics he touched upon were reduced product life-cycle, economic instability, and increased competitive pressures.

In summary the ASC meeting offered the opportunity to learn more about new chemistries and products. The keynotes balanced the science with the practical aspects of understanding the business climate and ideas on how to compete more effectively. Like AIMCAL, the program allowed time for networking with the various adhesive and raw material suppliers present at the meeting.

So that is an overview of both conferences with some insight into papers I attended and found useful. I still have probably not adequately addressed the original question on value of attending these events; for that matter attending any conference. So if you see a program that looks interesting, how do you make the decision on attending? Here are some key questions I ask myself that hopefully might give you some guidance:

  • What do I want to take away from the conference? Technical insight? New contacts? Both?
  • Who else is attending? Do I put myself at a competitive disadvantage because my competition is there learning and networking while I am not?
  • Is the travel and cost of the meeting reasonable based on what I get in return?
  • Can I leverage my travel costs by attending a short course as well as the meeting?

After each meeting I attend, I also do a post-event review, revisiting some of my answers to the questions above. I jot down what I felt I gained by my attendance from both the technical programs and the networking aspects of the meeting. I am almost always surprised by the result, as the contact with colleagues in the industry always seems to resonate. Having the opportunity to share industry insight and learn what others are doing is something it’s hard to put price on but seems to be one of the greatest values of attending any such event. So hopefully this digression from my focused adhesives discussions proved of interest. Until next time, just keep Sticking With It…

About the Author

Ingrid Brase is a technical market strategist recognized for her ability to translate technical needs into business solutions. Her understanding of pressure-sensitive adhesives and their use is complemented by her strengths in strategic marketing, project management, new product development, and key account management. She is available for consulting or contact assignments in these areas. Ingrid’s expertise is a result of more than 20 years of experience in the p-s adhesives business. She was most recently the market segment director for Henkel Corp., rising to that position after various assignments in the p-s business unit. She began her career as a research scientist then progressed to market-focused roles. Ingrid earned her MBA at Rider Univ. and holds a BS in chemistry from SUNY/Oneonta. She has served on the board of directors for TLMI and AIMCAL in addition to chairing technical teams for both trade associations. Ingrid is a well-known speaker and author on topics related to adhesive use. To learn more about Ingrid or contact her, visit or call her at 609-558-9760.


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