Innovative Meetings

How CONEXPO-CON/AGG Used Technology to Build an Unforgettable Experience

What will tomorrow bring for the construction industry? The Association of Equipment Manufacturers isn’t waiting around to find out.

Tech Tents When CONEXPO-CON/AGG participants ventured outside of the Las Vegas Convention Center, they saw where their industry is headed in the Tech Experience zone.

The construction industry can seem rooted in the Industrial Age — all steel and concrete, bricks and mortar. And in many ways CONEXPO-CON/AGG, the industry’s massive, triennial trade show, reflects that.

True to form, CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2017 drew 130,000 attendees and 3,000 exhibitors to the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) on March 7–11 to check out heavy machinery from Caterpillar and Bobcat, and learn the latest in asphalt- and cement- production techniques. But they could also tour something new — a futuristic landscape of white domed tents that mushroomed throughout the LVCC’s outdoor exhibition space.

It was CONEXPO-CON/AGG’s first-ever “Tech Experience” zone, highlighting cutting-edge, high-tech tools and strategies that the construction industry will be using in the future, including robots, drones, autonomous vehicles, smart systems, advanced materials, and simulation training. “Part of our mission is to be a thought leader for the construction industry,” said show director Sara Truesdale-Mooney, vice president of strategy and business development for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), which produces CONEXPO-CON/AGG. “We wanted to make sure people perceived the show not just as an equipment show. This was the place to go to find out what was on the horizon for the industry in all aspects.”

CONEXPOCON/AGG was the first show to use the LVCC’s new outdoor exhibit space, which was outfitted with ultra-modern domes.

AEM first conceived of the Tech Experience in the summer of 2014, according to Truesdale-Mooney, and spent the time since then planning the exhibit. They didn’t want to focus on technology just for the “cool” factor, but rather wanted to dig deeper to demonstrate how the most progressive and advanced techniques and equipment could steer the industry toward true innovation. “It was basically the show being an exhibitor at its own show,” Truesdale-Mooney said. 

To get started, AEM commissioned a futurist to study the construction industry as well as how trends in other industries could affect construction. From there, AEM and the futurist developed three themes around which to design topic areas: the future of the job site, the future of infrastructure, and the future of the workforce. Within those themes, they created several spotlight areas, including “Project AME,” which highlighted the world’s first excavator that was 3D-printed in steel, and the “drone zone,” with an obstacle course where visitors could learn to y high-tech equipment.

The Tech Experience also included an area for general sessions, which CONEXPO-CON/AGG had never before featured. All told, AEM offered 40 general-session presentations — called “tech talks” — over five days, with some drawing more than 400 attendees.

There were 34,000 unique visits to the Tech Experience.

But creating the program was one thing. Finding room for it was something else. AEM had to figure out where to put the 75,000-square foot Tech Experience within CONEXPO-CON/AGG’s already-crowded 50-acre footprint. As it happened, the LVCC had purchased a hotel property nearby and demolished the buildings to create more outdoor exhibit space, which CONEXPO-CON/ AGG became the first show to use.

Another challenge: AEM had no precedent for setting up the teams and processes needed to create the Tech Experience. All of that had to be done from scratch. “Everyone already had their own full-time jobs,” Truesdale-Mooney said, “so carving out the time for this heavy-lift project was difficult.”

But worth it. Using Bluetooth-enabled show badges and other high-tech methods of tracking attendees, AEM determined there were 34,000 unique visits to the Tech Experience. Many returned numerous times — there were a total of 113,000 visits over the show’s five days. AEM is already planning a Tech Experience at the next CONEXPO-CON/AGG in 2020.

“Since this was new, we had no benchmarks,” Truesdale-Mooney said.  “We consider this a big success, considering the size and scope of the show.”

Innovative Meetings is supported by the Irving Convention & Visitors Bureau, irvingtexas.com.

Michelle R. Davis

Contributing Editor Michelle R. Davis is a writer and editor based in Silver Spring, Maryland.