Bringing Innovative Solutions Back to an in-Person Event Format

Foam Expo North America and the Adhesives & Bonding Expo
Written by Nate Hendley

The Foam Expo North America and the Adhesives & Bonding Expo are back! Representatives from the industrial foam, adhesives, and bonding sectors are gearing up for a dynamic exposition running July 13–15 at the Suburban Collection Showplace venue in Novi, Michigan. The event promises to be big—and not just because it features hundreds of exhibitors and leading industry specialists.

For the first time, Foam Expo North America and the Adhesives & Bonding Expo are being held simultaneously in the same facility, so attendees can take in both shows. In 2020, the expositions would have been presented similarly but were hosted online instead, due to COVID concerns. Strict health measures have been put into place to keep everyone safe at the 2021 conference, and it is free to attend.

“This is usually an annual event, so there will be plenty of people who missed out last year who would like to get together. I think it will be a great opportunity for people to meet and network and find out about the latest innovations that are taking place. Whether it’s COVID-related or not, we’ve seen a lot of interesting trends come forward over the last couple of years,” states Conference Producer Callum Gibson of the company Smarter Shows.

Industrial foam solutions are used in an array of applications and products in the packaging, medical, construction, automotive, aerospace, and sports/leisure sectors, while bonding materials and adhesives play a crucial role in manufacturing operations.

The combined expo will feature a series of presentations, exhibitions, networking events, speakers, and panel discussions, covering materials, machinery, and production methods. Market trends, scientific innovations, and industry regulations will also be in the spotlight, as will personnel issues with such events as a panel discussion about workforce. Over five hundred firms such as 3M, Sekisui, Bostik, and JSP will be displaying their wares.

There is no overarching theme; rather each day will feature a different focus. The focus of the first day is sustainability, which is “one of the key areas we’re going to be looking at this year,” says Gibson.

It is a timely topic, given that the U.S. government recently re-joined the Paris Climate Agreement which includes clauses about emission reduction and energy efficiency. The Biden administration has committed to a fifty percent reduction in greenhouse gas pollution by 2030.

Gibson says that the foam and adhesives sectors are “uniquely situated,” to help the U.S. government meet its pollution pledge. Foam and adhesives play a central role in light-weighting—the practice of building airplanes and automobiles out of tough but low-weight materials to reduce fuel costs and emissions. Low-weight parts and components need to be adhered to each other while industrial foam products can replace heavier metal materials.

In keeping with the focus on sustainability, day one will feature “a particularly exciting,” opening meeting devoted to eco-friendly issues. Speakers will “come together for a plenary opening address. They will be having an interactive panel discussion around the topic of fostering environmentally-conscious material development to meet consumer demand and regulatory requirements,” he states.

Panelists for this opening day discussion include Lee Polance, vice president of global technology, engineering adhesives at H.B. Fuller; Anne Brown, head of North American product development and technical customer service, Loctite; Steve Sopher, technical director at JSP; and Marty Muenzmaier, sustainability and external affairs leader, Cargill Bioindustrial Group.

Day two, which focuses on applications and manufacturing, also features “some very interesting panels,” says Gibson. As an example, he points to a discussion dedicated to the topic of offsetting competing objectives for thermal management, acoustic, and shock absorption applications. Thermal management, in terms of insulating batteries, has become an increasingly important issue given the growing popularity of electric and hybrid vehicles, he notes. Fouad Mohammad, principal engineer of computational fluid dynamics and solid structural mechanics analysis at Bergstrom Inc. and Tim Vokes, senior applications engineer at Parker Lord, will be leading the discussion.

On day three, the focus shifts to regulation and testing, with a morning panel on staying ahead of regulatory updates. The discourse will be offered by Nao Nakamura, technical manager at Toyo Ink America, LLC; Ernest B. Wysong, vice president of technology at Natural Polymers, LLC; Margaret Sheppard of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and Stephen Wieroniey, director at the Center for the Polyurethanes Industry, American Chemistry Council.

There will also be a return of some of the fun activities from previous expos, including a ‘B2B matchmaking’ event designed to facilitate meetings between potential suppliers and buyers.

The B2B matching service will provide “an opportunity for anyone within the supply chain—whether you are a raw material supplier or a technology supplier—who wants to meet up with other businesses who could be a potential supplier or customer for you. If you have a particular business in that space that you are hoping to connect with, setting up that meeting and be able to meet at the show in person is a great way of doing so,” explains Gibson.

“The expo is specifically aimed at engineers,” according to Gibson, and engineers who attend should come away with a better sense of “what materials are available and how they might be able to improve their existing products.” They can also glean insights about new or newly enhanced processes that are intended to boost efficiency and throughput while lowering costs.

Anyone working in product development or technical services might want to check out the expo to investigate new applications, market trends, and “what the competition are up to,” he adds.

Foam Expo was originally launched as a standalone event. It featured a great deal of crossover content relevant to the bonding and adhesives industry, however. “Part of what made Foam Expo so interesting was the presence of the adhesive manufacturing side of things. This was identified as a key area that would be interesting to expand on,” notes Gibson.

As a result, a separate Adhesives & Bonding Expo was launched to accommodate interest in that field. In 2020, organizers intended to host both expos together, but COVID scuttled the plan. An online-only conference was held instead.

“We had a virtual event and a virtual exhibition that ran very successfully. Alongside that, we had a number of conference sessions which also took place virtually where audience members were able to log on and speak and interact with speakers from a safe distance,” he says.

While the virtual expo was well-received, organizers are clearly pleased with being able to hold a more traditional event this year. The delayed launch of the first-ever in-person co-located conference has ramped up expectations for the 2021 show.

“We’re very excited to be putting the conference. The newest feature this year will be the [combination] of both foam and adhesive topics. There might be topics that blend, and then there are topics that will remain separate because they are quite specific to [a particular part] of the supply chain,” notes Gibson.

Plenty of people within the foam and bonding/adhesives community seem to share the organizers’ excitement as registration numbers for 2021 are strong. “We’ve very positive it’s going to be a good turnout,” he says. Foam Expo 2019—the last in-person event of its kind—drew over 5,200 people from forty-five countries.

Organizers are keenly aware of the need to maintain health protocols due to COVID’s lingering presence. Some product demonstrations from exhibitors will be moved online this year, although “There will still be bits of technology on the show floor that are going to be there and can be accessed by the attendees,” assures Gibson.

“The conference area has been adjusted to fit the requirements of socially distanced spacing. We’ve reduced the number of seats and spaced them apart in a larger area—meaning that while everyone can sit and watch the conference, there will be a slightly reduced amount of people within the conference area. And there will be regularly scheduled cleaning,” he states, noting that cleaning crews “will be going through between each session to make sure that everything is wiped down properly.”

Additional health precautions include wider aisles and hand sanitizing stations located around the venue. Attendees are asked to maintain physical distancing and avoid handshakes. Food will be individually packaged, and extra staff will be on hand to provide guidance and health-related assistance.

While the event will not be live-streamed, organizers intend to put content online at some point.

If all goes to plan, and there is no resurgence of a new COVID variant, the co-located Foam Expo/Adhesives & Bonding Expo in Michigan will mark the resurgence of in-person industry events covering these sectors. Smarter Shows plans to host a new Adhesives Bonding Expo Europe show later this year, to complement the already existing Foam Expo Europe. The firm will also be launching Foam Expo China in Shanghai this December.

“As we get back to normal, we go back to our usual stride,” says Gibson.

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