In this series, FPSA members share their experiences at PROCESS EXPO and offer insights into how to maximize trade show ROI. This article was based on an interview with representatives from custom-food manufacturer Surlean Foods and industrial PC (IPC) manufacturer noax Technologies.

Surlean Foods first encountered noax Technologies and the industrial touchscreen computers they manufacture at PROCESS EXPO 2013. Neither knew it at the time, but this encounter would lead to a partnership between the two companies.

In 2015, Surlean Foods upgraded their ERP system and decided to upgrade their computer hardware as well, incorporating noax S12 IPCs on their packaging lines. These industrial computers pass real-time production data to the control room and make it possible to share the data across various facility locations. This data collection and sharing enable Surlean Foods to offer a higher level of traceability on their products (essential under the new FSMA rules), as well as improve their supply chain and their customers' satisfaction.

We love to hear stories like this that showcase profitable partnerships between food manufacturers and suppliers!

To learn a little more about how the partnership came about, and glean some insights to share with other PROCESS EXPO attendees and exhibitors, we talked with Surlean Foods Director of Maintenance & Operations Pablo Hernandez and noax Technologies Marketing Manager Lindsay Ackman.

Here's their story.

How long have you been going to PROCESS EXPO? How do you describe your experience at the show?

LA: noax was at PROCESS EXPO in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2013, and we'll be there in 2017. We also regularly go to IPPE, SENA, and PACK EXPO.

Overall, PROCESS EXPO is a great show for learning about food processing applications, as well as meeting with our customers and finding new prospects. Food processing and manufacturing is noax's core market, so the main reason we attend this show is its focus on that niche.

The first PROCESS EXPO I attended personally was PE 2013. I was impressed with both the size and the foot traffic. noax is a small business, and being able to attend a show of this size and type is incredibly beneficial for us. It allows us to gain exposure to a market that is otherwise accessible only to bigger companies.

PH: Surlean Foods has attended PROCESS EXPO on and off for the last ten years. I look forward to it every time as an opportunity to see what's new in the industry. We also go to PACK EXPO and the Powder Show.

Often at trade shows, it can be overwhelming to decide what you want to see. The past few years, we've been using the PROCESS EXPO phone app to find exhibitors we want to visit and map out our course. It makes our floor time much more efficient and helps us make the right connections.

Pablo, you first heard of noax in 2013. Three years later, you're working together. How did they catch your eye at the trade show?

PH: noax had a series of videos playing throughout their booth that showed high-pressure washers spraying industrial computers. They even had videos of those computers being dropped. These are typical challenges in a manufacturing plant, so the videos really hit home.

We weren't looking for computers at the time, but I remember thinking, “If I ever need a computer, this is the company we'd want to contact.”

A couple of years later, when we decided to upgrade our ERP system, we also needed new hardware technology to support it. Cory Simmons, Surlean Foods' Director of IT, called me for a recommendation, and I remembered the noax booth display. We looked at a few other suppliers, but from what I've seen, noax sets the standard for washdown industrial PCs.

Lindsay, as an exhibitor, what are the secrets to your trade show success? How do you ensure you stand out from the competition?

LA: We set up a waterfall unit display on the show floor. It's an actual PC unit setup with water running down it to simulate working with a low-pressure washer. It's always a real showstopper.

(Editor's note: You can say that again!)

noax Technologies IPC

When possible, we try to have demo units on the floor for different applications, like forklifts, water, and so on. By doing this, we can show exactly how a unit is manufactured and how it works. We have a demo PC with a clear acrylic back to show that our motherboards are manufactured in-house (noax is an OEM) and that they're a lot cleaner than what you find in competing solutions. We even bring different demo setups so customers and prospects can see the computers in action in the application they're looking for.

We also hand out noax case studies, data sheets and giveaways such as bags and pens.

And we keep the communication going. Before the show, we send out email blasts and our business development team makes calls. During the show, we use lead capturing devices to take notes. Post-show, we send emails and thank yous, and our sales team calls all of the contacts we made to schedule meetings and demos.

Pablo, as an attendee, what can exhibitors do to get your attention? What attracts you to, and makes you want to work with, a supplier?

PH: A big thing is having enough staff available during peak hours. Many exhibitors don't have the manpower at their booths to service all of the people coming through. As an attendee, I can't always go to the same booth multiple times to see someone, especially if I'm only there for one day.

At the end of the show, I love getting the summary of the booths I visited and where my badge was scanned. This information is very useful as we plan our future contacts with suppliers.

If you knew someone was debating whether or not to attend PROCESS EXPO, what would you say to them to convince them to go?

LA: From the exhibitor side, what counts is access to the appropriate buyers. PROCESS EXPO provides a great opportunity to connect with industry-leading innovators. The people we meet there are the ones we want to talk to — high-level people who a small company like noax doesn't always have the opportunity to get in front of.

PH: When it comes down to it, the reason to go is the exhibitor attendance. It's an opportunity to see the latest and greatest equipment and technologies and meet the newest up-and-coming exhibitors. Networking with different suppliers and exhibitors is very important to us — we get to see our normal suppliers, but also check out what their competitors have to offer.

Thank you, Pablo and Lindsay, for sharing your story and your insight into what makes a great trade show! See you at PROCESS EXPO 2017!

To learn more about the noax/Surlean Foods partnership, download the full case study.