Opinion – Why THIS Bauma matters

“Construction exhibitions are a barometer of industry sentiment and sector confidence”.

Although it took a well-earned and long-overdue break during the COVID-19 pandemic when exhibitions went into an enforced stasis, that is a cliché I have heard trotted out for some three decades now.

Cliché or not, there is some truth in that statement. And industry watchers like myself will be looking beyond the hot new equipment when Bauma 2022 opens its doors in just a few days’ time. We will be scanning the aisles and the halls for signs of confidence or concern among the 600,000 visitors that are expected to converge at the Messe Munchen exhibition centre in Munich. We will gaze deeply into the eyes of the equipment manufacturers and their dealers, looking for a “tell”; a slight twitch that affords a glimpse beyond the upbeat exhibition persona and towards their true fears, concerns, hopes and expectations.

Although this year’s outing of the mammoth Bauma show has been pushed back to later in the year, the triennial show largely escaped the impact of COVID-19. When the industry gathered for Bauma 2019, the term COVID had not yet entered the industry vocabulary; masks were something we wore at Halloween; and handshakes were still a thing.

There is a hope, therefore, that Bauma 2022 will pick up where the previous iteration of the show left off; upbeat, confident, and unwilling to allow the conflict taking place in relatively nearby Ukraine to break its stride.

But this year’s Bauma exhibition is important for more than just gauging industry sentiment.

This Bauma marks an industry turning point: a last hurrah for the plant and equipment of the past; and a glimpse of the equipment of tomorrow.

Many manufacturers have committed to some or all of its machines running on a fuel other than diesel by the year 2030. The average machine model has a life expectancy of around four or five years before it is upgraded or replaced entirely. Working backwards, that means that by Bauma 2025, diesel will have been pushed even further to the periphery of an industry where it once reigned supreme.

Virtually every major manufacturer worth its salt will be showcasing an electric future at this year’s Bauma. Several are expected to afford us all a glimpse of machines that run entirely upon hydrogen.

By the time Bauma 2025 rolls around, the industry will look, sound and smell very different indeed.

But the change doesn’t end there. Among the Bauma 600,000 visitors, there will be many for whom pen and paper are already a relic from a bygone age; a generation that lays out a site not with string and wooden stakes but with laser beams and iPads; for whom remote working is now so second nature that they view it merely as working.

This new generation of demolition and construction professionals will be seeking the tools to make their job safer, more productive, more efficient and less environmentally harmful.

While some of us will watch from the side-lines and scoff, that new generation views developments such as telematics, connected sites, machine guidance, virtual and augmented reality and artificial intelligence not as “just another thing to learn” but as a natural next step on the industry’s evolutionary path.

And there is one more reason why many will be watching Bauma 2022 especially closely; and that reason is the very notion of physical exhibitions as a whole.

Although Bauma 2019 and Bauma 2022 effectively bookended the COVID-19 crisis, the latest outing of the show has not been immune to the damaging effects of the pandemic.

Major manufacturers such as Volvo, CASE and JCB have elected to stay away for Bauma 2022. And while its equipment will be on display through its German dealer Zeppelin, the mighty Caterpillar – the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturer – will also be notable by its absence.

In the three and a bit years since the crowds last gathered for a Bauma show, equipment manufacturers have learned new ways in which to engage with their existing and prospective customers. They have embraced online product launches and virtual machine introductions and demonstrations. They have learned how to showcase their equipment without having to haul it – at considerable expense – to Munich.

Along the way, they may have learned that their message is delivered more effectively if it is not diluted by the looming presence of all their biggest competitors.

As the biggest exhibition in the world serving one of the biggest industry sectors in the world, Bauma is always important. But Bauma 2022 is, perhaps, the most important in recent memory. It marks a turning point for fuel, for technology and for the way in which industry learns about new developments. It is the biggest opportunity for the industry to gather again after a period of enforced isolation; and it is a litmus test for exhibitors and visitors alike on their appetite for physical exhibitions and events.

For those reasons and for many more besides, THIS Bauma matters.