To paraphrase Charles Dickens: was the best of shows, it was the worst of shows....

Last month over the course of two weeks I covered the Electrocoat 2006 show in tourist-laden Orlando, as well as RadTech's e/5 conference and exhibition in bustling Chicagoland.

The E-coat extravaganza was uniquely organized. Conference papers were presented consecutively in one hall, with each presentation limited to about 20 minutes. The last speaker finished around 4 p.m. At that juncture, the attendees' focus was redirected to supplier hospitality suites, which were used in place of traditional exhibition floor booths. Technical, sales and marketing people were available in each suite, as well as an assortment of fine munchies and adult beverages. About 20 suites were set up.

It was very difficult to find any new technology or new approaches to business as I waded through room after room of displays. Although manufacturers appeared to be devoting considerable energy to optimizing and refining equipment and materials, no bona fide innovation was evident.

One comment made at E-coat 06 resounds in my mind. A battle-hardened technologist was presenting a paper describing a particular type of electrocoat material. He informed us that much of the finishing in this sector was relocating to Asia, but assured us that the U.S. had better technology and that we would prevail. What? Has he shopped at Wal-Mart lately? Experts estimate that approximately 80 percent of Wal-Mart's suppliers are located in China.1 When quality meets a certain minimum, business is unequivocally driven by economics. The only other drivers are design and delivery.

A few days later I found myself in the McCormick Center at the RadTech show. Most of the place was abuzz with talk of breakthroughs in materials and processes. What a refreshing atmosphere. Not surprisingly, most of the new stuff was emanating from smaller, more agile entrepreneurial companies. Not only did they proffer new equipment and coatings, but also novel business approaches. These innovators obviously recognize the need to rethink their approach to the industry and the market.

To ensure our future viability, we need to keep our heads out of the sand. Not only do we have to push back the frontiers of materials and processing technology, but we also have to rethink our business models.

In this issue of IP&P, we present a few examples of emerging technology. New designs for paint application equipment have been developed and are ready for market, and novel UV curing processes for metal finishing are being developed and refined.

As always, we welcome your comments on the information we provide to you, the finishing engineer. Our aim is to cover the latest developments and innovations in finishing technology. Please e-mail me

Innovation... it is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better approach that I go to than I have ever known. (paraphrasing Mr. Dickens again)