Alex Beall is a former associate editor for Associations Now.
With the introduction of its Virtual Reality Showroom, the Food Processing Suppliers Association will give attendees an inside look into exhibitors' products at its September conference.
The food-processing equipment used in the food and beverage industry is large and often dangerous—its use of heat or spinning blades makes it difficult for a buyer to closely examine how it works. But the Food Processing Suppliers Association is leveraging virtual reality technology to give its members an inside look.
At its September 2017 PROCESS EXPO, FPSA will host a Virtual Reality Showroom, where exhibitors will be able to virtually demonstrate their products— those large pieces of equipment—and how they operate.
“With virtual reality, the attendee actually gets the opportunity to stick his head or her head into the machine and see it functioning without any sort of problems,” Senior Vice President Andy Drennan says.
The goal is to give members another perspective on food-processing technology. “We are forever trying to show the customer the new [food processing] innovations in the industry,” Drennan says. “Anything we can do to facilitate that for the customer and for our exhibitors, that’s a plus.”
In the Virtual Reality Showroom, they're going to get to experience equipment from all different segments.—Andy Drennan, Food Processing Suppliers Association
To encourage exhibitors to participate, FPSA will cover the development costs of the virtual platform, manage the exhibit booth, and provide the necessary VR equipment. The hired vendor, ANT Automation, will use the exhibitors’ videos to create the virtual experience files, which exhibitors will receive after the meeting to use on their own VR equipment. By participating in the showroom, Drennan says, exhibitors will have produced a VR experience of their products at a third of the usual cost.
After seeing a VR display at the 2016 International Baking Industry Exposition in Las Vegas, FPSA’s board of directors was inspired to embrace the technology, especially as its industry looks to leverage it.
“We know that food processors are expecting that at some point the suppliers will all have VR versions of their equipment, and it will be much easier to show them how it works, how it functions, perhaps within their own plant,” Drennan says.
Lastly, expo attendees represent a range of food industries—from meat to baking to prepared foods—and the tradeshow floor has allowed them to take ideas from other industries to implement in their own. The Virtual Reality Showroom harnesses that sense of cross-pollination, Drennan says.
“It could be an attendee from any particular segment, but in the Virtual Reality Showroom, they’re going to get to experience equipment from all different segments,” he says. “To actually see it functioning, that’s better than what they can get on the show floor.”
[This article was originally published in the Associations Now print edition, titled "An Inside Look."]