Hoffman clips away. (Photo by Tudor Hampton for enr.com.)

Kevin McCaleb glanced over a sea of exhibitors, stopping on a man using a blue power gun to drive plastic clips into a rebar cage. His eyes widened as he said, "That's sweet!

"Thousands like McCaleb, who owns J&S Construction in Cookeville, Tenn., ventured to Las Vegas on Jan. 17-20 to see the next big thing at the annual World of Concrete.

Inside the Las Vegas Convention Center, the floor was packed. Outside, equipment and tool demos, decorative concrete art exhibits and bricklaying contests bustled.

By day three, registration hit 80,000. "The show is the largest in its 32-year history," said convention director Tom Cindric. Last year, attendance reached approximately 72,000.

Around the exhibits, some folks drank beer, picked up freebies and shopped casually, while others talked fast and rushed to complete their laundry lists before the show was over.

One of these was Michael Kneeland, executive vice president of United Rentals Inc. He came to this year's event to visit with vendors and discover the "next wave" in equipment.

Sipping coffee and monitoring his Blackberry outside one the exhibit halls, Kneeland sketched in details about a new alliance that his firm forged with online auctioneer eBay last November.

"Our preference is to retail," Kneeland said. "It entangles ourselves with the customer."

United now sells its used equipment on eBay under the handle "unitedrentals." Since last year, it has sold more than a dozen machines through the online auctions. It plans to unload machines from most of its local branches by the end of the first quarter, Kneeland said.

Elsewhere, manufacturers had news of their own. Mack Trucks announced that it was selling the first rollover-protection device for concrete mixers, which will cost an estimated $1,500.

"Eventually, I think it could easily go standard on the mixer applications," said senior vice president Kevin Flaherty.

Meanwhile, nearby exhibitor Pettibone unveiled a telescopic handler that it fitted with a new axle technology called "PrecisionSteer."

"Our customers were saying, we are tearing the hell out of tires," said Pete Haikio, Pettibone vice president.

In response, the company celebrated its 125th anniversary this year with the improved-geometry axle, which reduces tire wear by as much as 50%, Pettibone claims.

Technology supplier Leica Geosystems stole the show with a new GPS dozer simulator. The graphics and sound were so realistic that it had Leica's competitors eyeing it frequently.

"We may end up selling simulators," joked Bob Williams, company president.

Jon Kodi, another exhibitor, also had a successful show. Last year, he displayed a new rebar fastener that he created on his kitchen table in Lebanon, Tenn. He's sold millions of the "Kodi Clip" since.

This year, after expanding the product into seven different sizes, as well as investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in injection-mold equipment and patent applications, he showcased a power tool to match the plastic clips.

"It's going to be huge," Kodi said.

Judging by the attention he got from contractors, he may be right. "I think it is a neat idea, especially if it will save time tying rebar," said McCaleb.

Richard Hoffman, a salesman who works for Tyco Electronics Corp., demonstrated the prototype gun, which his company built for Kodi in 90 days. Packed with a magazine of clips, the cordless tool popped them out over cross-jointed #5 rebar in seconds.

"It's the whole razor-razorblade scenario," Hoffman said. "You can sell all the connectors and contacts in the world, but if you don't have a tool, it's not going to do you a lot of good."

Tyco hopes to have the gun available by mid-year, at a price below $1,000. Until then, it is offering a manual-impact hand tool for $220.