The International Special Tooling & Machining Association, ISTMA World, made history on 30 June 2020 when the Association presented its first ever online General Assembly. The international association represents special tooling and machining associations in 21 member countries throughout the world. Collectively, ISTMA member associations represent over 8,000 companies with an estimated 120 billion U.S. dollars in annual sales. The aim of the virtual General Assembly was to give representatives from all ISTMA member countries around the globe access to the proceedings. The presentation of an online General Assembly via the Zoom platform follows a decision by the ISTMA Board of Directors to postpone the 16 th ISTMA World Conference due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. The conference was scheduled to take place in Shanghai, China in June 2020. The Board decided to proceed with the holding of a virtual General Assembly meeting, using a video conference platform and utilizing the services of professional conference organizers to enhance the experience.

ISTMA World President, Bob Williamson, says although the decision to postpone the tri-annual event came as a disappointment, he is optimistic that the 16th World Conference in 2021 will be one of the best world conferences ever. He says the event will be historic in many respects as it is the first time that China will act as host country for the ISTMA World Conference since the inception of ISTMA, almost half a century ago. Williamson says the first online global General Assembly was a great success and served as a valuable experiment for the future application of virtual technology for the benefit of all ISTMA members.

The online General Assembly, chaired by ISTMA President Bob Williamson, featured 31 attendees from a record number of 19 countries, five global partner representatives and 13 invited guests from four countries. For the first time representatives of four non-member African countries – Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Uganda attended as observers. Williamson says the African representation is of special significance as it represents an important step forward towards the formalization of ISTMA Africa structures.

In addition to the unanimous approval of the 2019 Management Report, the ISTMA Plan of Activities and 2020 Budget, discussions focused on ISTMA activities at world level to promote sector recognition, exposure and visibility and the enlargement of ISTMA membership. Tapiwa Samanga from South Africa reported on the status of the ISTMA Africa grouping. He stated that Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Uganda are expected to join the ranks of ISTMA in the near future. Bob Williamson said exploratory contact would be made with FADMA (Asian Association) to enlarge Asian membership while Mexico, Canada and Brazil started exploratory discussions to re-establish ISTMA Americas.

The virtual General Assembly offered an opportunity to Clariter, a new ISTMA Global Partner, to introduce the company to ISTMA members. In his presentation, CEO Ran Sharon described Clariter as a world leader in recycling with a unique upcycling technology transforming plastic waste into industrial, waxes and solvents that form the basis for more than a thousand plastic-free end products. The keynote address was delivered by Dr Harry Teifel, Platform Leader of Progressus, a multi-expert 4IR/Digitalization Solution Eco-system who provided an insight on how supply chains will be shortened and new technologies introduced in the post Covid-19 global economic revival.

Peter Aspinal, Managing Director of Strategic Business Services Pty Ltd who facilitated the virtual General Assembly says the company has always been in the forefront in adapting new technology. "The current situation, however, demands much more than just new technology - it involves a complete rethink on how we structure and manage events under Covid-19 lockdown and the future" says Aspinal. "Fortunately the ISTMA General Assembly had a specific target audience and agenda and the event therefore served as a good stepping stone for the company to break into this new dimension of event management. The General Assembly was well controlled by ISTMA President Bob Williamson and Manuel Oliveira of ISTMA Secretariat who kept things going and on time. The highly successful General Assembly again underlined the value of networking and personal interaction in the virtual space" says Aspinal.

Another contributor to the success of the event was the value added by the pre-recording and editing of presentations and the design of functional Zoom backgrounds with a high visual impact. The presentations and other graphic elements were produced by Bushbaby Communication, a South African-based integrated design agency. "Compiling professional presentations from speakers recorded halfway around the world presented a unique challenge" says Tok Grobler, CEO of the agency. "The successful online General Assembly is proof that virtual communication technology will become increasingly important for organisations such as ISTMA World operating in the global production technology space and represents an important step forward towards the comprehensive embracement of the new technologies" says Grobler.