This article highlights the benefits of conducting a fair to increase business visibility. Many emerging industrial nations are using fairs to increase their visibility. Russia used more than 7000 square meters at the 2005 fair to display the country's skills in fields ranging from aerospace, energy, and metallurgy to materials, transportation, and automation. Eighty-one companies competed for the prestigious Hermes Award for pioneering technology. The Hermes finalists were selected by a jury, but the people's choice was clearly the Airacuda, a pneumatically powered fish that dived, turned, and swam like its biological antecedents. In addition to Chancellor Merkel, it drew a steady stream of engineers who came to watch it swim in its 60,000-liter aquarium at the Festo AG & Co. KG exhibit. The article concludes that the objects are playful; however, they have a serious purpose-the advancement of industrial technology and perhaps of medicine as well.

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In the age of online banking, searchable materials databases, MFG.com, and the like, many of the traditional ways of making business contacts have lost some of their appeal. Sure, the occasional face-to-face session is important, but you can get on a plane just about any time, and then there's always the webinar.

Culture and trade fairs have come in for their share of knocks in our globally connected world. Over the past few years, many have shrunk and others have disappeared. But there's one that just seems to keep rolling on.

The annual Hanover Fair in Germany is outstanding for its ability to keep drawing the attention of visitors, exhibitors, and politicians. And it manages to hand out a door prize every year worth more than $100,000.

The Hannover Messe (spelled with two 'n's in German) ran this year from April 24 to 28, and attracted 155,000 visitors, about one-third from outside Germany. It housed 5,175 exhibitors from 66 nations on 155,000 square meters, or nearly a half-million square feet in 15 different halls.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a keynote speech for the fair. So did Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, Germany's partner nation at the fair this year. Singh's delegation included 20 high-level ministers, 800 government officials, and 343 exhibitors. The Indian government was both shopping for infrastructure and looking to raise the profile of its manufacturers. And it did more than window shopping. The Indian delegation left with about $1.8 billion in signed contracts and letters of intent.

Other emerging industrial nations have used the fair to increase their visibility. Last year's partner nation, Russia, used more than 7,000 square meters at the 2005 fair to display the country's skills in fields ranging from aerospace, energy, and metallurgy to materials, transportation, and automation.

China, by the way, was the second-biggest source of exhibitors this year, with 250.

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And the Winner Is...

Technology is one of the fair's draws. Eighty-one companies competed for the prestigious Hermes Award for pioneering technology, which comes with a purse of 100,000 euros. The award went to Harting ' Mitronics AG of Biel, Switzerland, a subsidiary of Germany's Harting Technology Group, for a passive radio frequency identification, or RFID, transponder for industrial environments.

Harting's HARfid achieves reliable readings at ranges of 5 meters, even when used near metals and liquids that can cause conventional, foil-based smart lab els to fail. What makes this possible is a three-dimensional antenna laser-patterned inside a molded plastic package. Harting then adds an RFID chip and seals the package ultrasonically against the harsh industrial environment.

There were four runners-up for the Hermes prize. Otto Bock HealthCare GmbH was recognized for its DynamicArm, which includes the world's first electronically controlled elbow joint. The company, based in Dunderstaadt, Germany, uses electrodes to sense electrical impulses that run along the upper arm surface when the brain tells the forearm to move. The DynamicArm uses these minute pulses to control its motion. A counterweighted system enables a user to walk naturally, swinging the arm, and to lift it quickly into position. Noiseless motors and an infinitely variable transmission make the elbow and hand both precise and capable of lifting and manipulating heavy objects.

Veitz GmbH of Hanover, Germany, hauled in a large treaded vehicle designed to laser-weld piping on the fly. It carries a portable generator, a sophisticated 20- kilowatt laser, and a long boom that circles the laser head around the outside of the pipe. The unit can weld, test, and document 2.3 meters of 20-millimeterthick pipe per minute. This is enough to lay about 5 kilometers of pipe daily. Veitz claims that the fully automated process slash es the time and cost of conventionally executed projects by two-thirds . It also produces better bonds, since laser butt welding does not use weaker filler materials.

Germany's ContiTech Luftfedersysteme GmbH and Sweden's SKF Group collaborated on the Gigabox, an axle box suspension system for freight trains hauling up to 25 metric tons per axle. The device takes its name from its promise of no maintenance for 1 gigameter (more commonly stated as 1 Million kilometers) or 10 years. The unit combines a rubber spring and integrated hydraulic damper to isolate wheel vibrations, and a tap ered bearing whose use of polymers reduces wear, grease co ntamination, and fretting corrosion.

The fifth finalist, Thomas Schildknecht Industrieelectronik of Sersheim, Germany, introduced a wireless communications system that conn ects standardi zed Profibus and other manufacturing fieldbus control components with one another. This is no small achievement in the electrically noisy fac tor y environment. The system also links with wireless lo cal area networks and Bluetooth devices, and is the first wireless system to support Profisafe inherently safe devices.

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A Fish With Muscles

The Hermes finalists were selected by a jury, but the people's choice was clearly the Airacuda, a pneumatically powered fish that dived, turned, and swam like its biological antecedents. In addition to C h ancellor Merkel, it drew a steady stream of engineers who came to watch it swim in its 60,000-liter aquarium at the Festo AG & Co. KG exhibit.

The Airacuda was designed by Festo's Bionic Learning Network, which seeks to translate biological operating modes into technical applica tions. In this case, the key technology is Festo's pneumatic muscle. This is a flexible hose made of rubber reinforced with aramid fiber. When pressurized, the muscle diameter expands and its length contracts about 20 percent. The contraction generates power. Festo runs two muscles along the fish's flanks to its tail. Pressurizing one while depressurizing the other swishes the tail and drives the fish .

Festo showed off several other bionic products at the fair. They included the Humanoid, a ro b ot whose pneumatic muscles give it a smooth range of motion; the b-IONIC Airfish, a small dirigible modeled on penguin aerodynamics and powered by an ion drive; and the Hovercraft Vector, a floating craft that uses vector thrust for precise control.

Festo remains best known for pneumatics, sensors, and control devices. The inventiveness behind its bionic products seems to remind engineers why they went into the profession in the first place.

The objects are playful, but they have a serious purpose- the advancement of industrial te chnology and perhaps of medicine as well. But maybe that's the spirit that keeps the crowds coming back.