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Heading home: here's what it takes to leave CES

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First, the bad news: CES is ending. All the cool stuff on the show floor is being packed into crates, loaded into tractor trailers and shipped home. The television walls are coming down and the demos are being dismantled. By Tuesday, all this stuff will be somewhere else. And by now, it should be painfully clear that there's a lot of stuff at CES.

In the next three days, it's all coming down

Here are a few numbers to put everything in perspective. Before the first booth has been installed, the show floor has been equipped with 130 miles of electrical cable distributing enough power to light up over a thousand homes. There are electrical drops, massive tension-fabric signs and 30 miles of carpet roll. All of it was put up for CES — and in the next three days, it's all coming down.

A firm called Global Experience Specialists handles the work, employing a combination of full-timers and hired hands from the local craft unions. At the peak unloading days (like today), the workforce tops 1,700. That's just to get to equipment from the show floor to the freight entrance. Once it's in on the loading dock, exhibitors are on their own.

From there, things get even more complicated. Most of the big booths were fully built outside of Vegas before they shipped here, and when they finish here, the raw materials are headed back to the original fabricators. In the case of Toshiba, they've been building it since Thanksgiving. The physical construction was done by a firm called Visual Communications, which also handled Honeywell and Vivitar/Sakar for this year's show. They started work nearly two months ago in a staging warehouse in Aston, PA, then broke down the booth to fit on custom ten-foot pallets (nicknamed "skids"), and then loaded onto ten different tractor trailers and shipped over to Vegas. Now that they've served their purpose, they're headed back to Aston.

If all that effort seems like a waste, it could be worse. At similar conferences in Europe, it's not cost effective to ship the materials back, so most exhibit materials are destroyed immediately after the show, a practice known as "build-and-burn."

In the meantime, a maze of empty crates is left sitting on palettes in a stretch of asphalt between the North Hall and the Las Vegas Hotel, waiting to be filled and shipped.

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