CHICAGO — The International Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Exposition (AHR Expo) blew into Chicago on Jan. 23 and provided big crowds, hot topics, and a plethora of new products.

The expo set an all-time attendance record with nearly 40,000 registered visitors at Chicago’s McCormick Place. The previous record for visitors was 38,534 in New York City in 2008. For the 2012 expo, when you add in the exhibitor personnel and other attendees, more than 58,000 HVACR professionals participated in the event.

“The mood has been great. We have been packed the entire time. We have had a lot of contractors and a lot of distributors come by, so it has been great,” said Kevin Mayer, specified products manager for ECR International.

The 2012 show was also the largest in terms of space as nearly 430,000 square feet of exhibit space was used for display. That made the show 5 percent bigger than the 2006 Chicago show.

“We are delighted that we have established new all-time records for both the size of the event and the best visitor attendance,” said Clay Stevens, president of International Exposition Co., which produces and manages the AHR Expo.

“We hope this is an indication that the economy is on the upswing and will continue to improve.”

Stevens also attributed the new records to the many new energy-efficient technologies and products in the marketplace, as well as pent-up demand for new equipment.

In addition to seeing the new products that were on display at every turn, attendees spent a great deal of time at the show discussing news that broke as the industry was in Chicago. Recent developments with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considering a faster phaseout of HCFCs got a lot of attention from contractors and manufacturers alike.

“Obviously, everyone is hungry about information about what is happening with the refrigerant market. We are trying our best to get everyone up to speed and let them know what their options are,” said Gordon McKinney, vice president and COO of ICOR.

People in the aisles also talked about the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and the Heating, Airconditioning, and Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) filing separate suits against the Department of Energy regarding the recently passed regional standards.

But the greatest amount of talk centered around the size of the expo and the number of new products being showcased.

“This is our first AHR Expo and we are amazed at the size and diversity of the attendee base — we were overwhelmed by the response,” said Karl Schneider, vice president of marketing for FieldAware.

A total of 1,968 exhibitors from 35 countries showcased their products and technologies, nearly tying the record of 1,989 companies that exhibited at the 2006 Chicago show. In addition to the thousands of new products and technologies exhibited on the show floor, more than 100 educational sessions were offered by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and many other industry associations.

Publication date: 2/13/2012