Manufacturing companies are under increasing pressure as the millennium approaches. A strong pound, a shortage of skilled labour, EMU and the looming year 2000 issue are combining with a need for lower costs and shorter lead times to prompt UK manufacturers to revisit their IT for greater competitive advantage. It is timely then, that the annual Computers in Manufacturing (CIM ’99) event is drawing near and will run at the NEC, Birmingham, from 26 to 28 October this year. With manufacturing a bigger consumer of IT than ever, the exhibitors and delegates at the event should have plenty to talk about. IT spend in UK manufacturing is set to reach £3.5bn this year – which makes manufacturing the second highest spending vertical market for IT, second only to the finance sector. Large companies (those with more than 500 employees) account for over half of this spend, but small companies are also investing heavily in IT to keep themselves ahead of the game, and this will be reflected at the event. CIM (www.cimshow.co.uk) is unarguably the UK’s premier event for IT in the manufacturing sector. In 1998, the show attracted more than 13,000 visitors, reflecting the increasing importance of IT as a manufacturing business improvement tool. In order to cover IT for all areas of industry, four sister shows are contained within the CIM portfolio. They are: Networks in Manufacturing; Control Systems Integration; Process IT; and Design Technologies, which incorporates PDM ’99 and CAM ’99. These satellite events surround the core CIM show, which covers manufacturing industry’s heartland IT, such as computer-aided design, enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management, shopfloor data capture and IT infrastructure. As usual, the event’s organiser, Independent Exhibitions, has highlighted key themes that will be a motif throughout the main event and its subsidiaries. One of these is entitled “Think Global – Act Local”. It will examine how UK manufacturers are faced with increasing competition and must realise ways of reducing time to market whilst decreasing costs. With today’s geographically dispersed sites, and with design and production often taking place concurrently but on different continents, manufacturers are increasingly using Internet technologies to shift product data from plant to plant and often from country to country as well. Another key theme is “Retaining Customers by Creating Loyalty”. This will centre on how the battleground for UK manufacturers is increasingly moving away from cutting costs and improving quality, to a new focus on flexibility. Today’s manufacturers must compete for and retain customers by producing products that fit market requirements and arrive on the market at exactly the right time. Also widely discussed at CIM ’99 will be the way in which ERP has penetrated most large manufacturing companies and is sweeping the medium-sized marketplace with shrink-wrapped, off-the-shelf packages. Customer relationship management (CRM) will be the next big wave to ride, as manufacturing companies look to use the data supplied through back-end ERP systems to retain and develop profitable customer relationships. Also up for discussion will be the way in which only 18 per cent of UK manufacturing companies are certified Euro-ready, despite the massive £3.5bn that manufacturing companies are forecast to spend on IT in 1999. One third of companies are planning to replace non-compliant systems – but one quarter have still taken no action at all. This is despite the fact that over one third of British manufacturers depend upon Europe for over 25 percent of their business, either in terms of supply or in terms of sales. Guy Matthews is a freelance journalist. SPECIAL EVENTS AT CIM ’99 – Net Visions in manufacturing is a series of five debates focusing on how, in real terms, the Internet will impact on specific areas of manufacturing industry. – An extensive educational programme with nine concurrent streams has been developed for CIM ’99. It includes free user seminars to cover information technology subjects such as networks, e-business, control systems and applications for vertical markets. – CIM ’99 will host Industry Centres of Excellence that cater specifically for automotive, aerospace, process engineering, electrical/electronics and mechanical engineering users of IT. – The results of an independent study into the use of and future trends in IT in UK manufacturing will be formally launched on the first day of the show. – The CIM Awards will acknowledge product innovation and marketing excellence whilst rewarding outstanding achievement across the breadth of IT use in manufacturing. In this fourth year of the awards, prizes will be awarded for best product, best advertising campaign, best stand and best integrated campaign.