There was something different about this year’s TCT3Sixty conference. The queues of excited attendees lining up to collect their I.D badges at the entrance to the event, seemed to evaporate in the large open space of the exhibition. Furthermore, the hall space that was usually reserved for TCT3Sixty, had been cut in half and occupied by exhibitors in the Interplas show instead! It wasn’t the show that we remembered from previous years, but perhaps the show in 2019 had been a precursor to this.
The initial reaction on day 1 of the event was one of surprise and trepidation, one that left us wondering, “do AM-only shows still make sense?”.
Even with a distinct lack of some of the bigger industry brand names and a lower footfall than in previous years, the exhibitors that were present took full advantage of the opportunity to network and showcase what their machines could do. On day 2 in particular, the exhibitors were kept busy on their stands.
What does this tell us about the relevance of these shows?
This article is less about the success of TCT3Sixty, however, and more about the position of additive manufacturing as a solution. In the past, shows such as TCT3Sixty, have been a platform for AM evangelists and converts to gather, compare and showcase the developments of their tech. In spite of this, the position of additive manufacturing in the wider manufacturing market is shifting.
In the past, 3D printing tech has struggled with reliability and repeatability, alienating it as profitable solution for rapid or large scale manufacturing processes. When compared with other techniques such as high-speed machining, casting, molding or extruding, it left a little something to be desired. It’s strengths always lay in its customizability, sustainability and precision, and it is because of this that it made sense to advocate for the development of this technology through industry specific events.
Having said this, what is most important to note is that while this year’s exhibition was reduced in size, the applications of 3D printing had a presence in both MedTech and Interplas, showing not only its use as an ancillary solution to manufacturing and production processes, but its application in vertical industries too.
We had the pleasure of speaking with a new MedTech start-up, ‘FabRx‘ who have developed the World’s first pharmaceutical printer for the production of personalized medications. They provide a great example of how 3D printing is catching on in vertical industries too.
Predictions for the Future
We are likely to see additive manufacturing companies redirecting their resources towards more general manufacturing shows. Earlier this year, SLM Solutions made a public announcement that they had chosen not to exhibit at this year’s Formnext show in Frankfurt, Germany – much to the initial surprise of many. Instead we saw that the business had redirected its resources to EMO Milano, as one of twenty additive manufacturing and 3D printing companies to have a presence at that show. But this shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
As the tech matures and evolves, we see that actually additive manufacturing should start to position itself differently. It is now really beginning to earn its place as an ancillary solution to more traditional manufacturing processes – something which is made evident in more than one case.
Where additive-only shows still offer a platform for networking and showcasing new developments that can be appreciated by advocates of the technology, the various (general) manufacturing shows that happen throughout the year now offer a gateway for businesses to access the sales opportunities that will make the difference for their revenue growth strategies, and for the saturation of 3D printing tech in more traditional manufacturing settings.