Our Director Nick Pearce shares his thoughts of the rapid 2017 event.
Waking up Tuesday morning to glorious sunshine and walking to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center along the river, you could see further the industrial heritage of Pittsburgh. It seemed a more apt setting for Rapid than the previous year, where it had been held in Orlando. I had a reasonably low expectation for the exhibition having been completely underwhelmed a year earlier. I was surprised by how small the event was by comparison to the European events like Formnext.
After an initial early morning meeting I was excited to get into the main hall and start finding my way around the various stands. Upon entering the hall, I was amazed. Firstly, I couldn’t quite see the full extent of the exhibitors as they stretched out to the right and left. Secondly, the sizes of the stands were all noticeably bigger and there were a lot more of them. Even early on Tuesday morning it was buzzing and there was already a lot of activity going on.
Tuesday flew by in a haze of meetings but culminated in a fantastic trip to The Heinz stadium, home of The Pittsburgh Steelers. I am not an American Football fan but it was very interesting to see their Super Bowl trophies, walk through the hall of fame and get a look at the pitch.
Thinking about the day, there really was only one subject everybody was talking about…Desktop Metal. Having invested significantly in pre-event marketing and as lead sponsors for the event itself, there was a constant stream of people at their booth. With very few significant new product introductions for metal AM in recent times there was a lot of interest in the product. People wanted to understand more the technology, whether it was truly a ‘desktop’ solution and whether they would create a new segment within metal AM?
I think Desktop Metal have done a fantastic job of creating excitement around their product and given their price point and HAAS(Hardware as a Service) option, they will succeed in opening up a new segment within metal AM. As to whether it is disruptive and will threaten some of the more embedded players like EOS and SLM, I am not so sure. I think there are still questions as to whether it is a ‘Desktop’ solution. I can’t see their machines in the office, which is something they have claimed, purely from a health and safety perspective for one. I do think though that many organisations starting to think about metal AM might look to Desktop Metal as their entry point. For more experienced manufacturers I could easily see them adding it to their portfolio as well.
Alongside Desktop Metal, Carbon were also one of the other main talking points of the show. What I really like about Carbon and what they have done, is to truly bring 3D Printing into the minds of everybody. As I walk round various stands I am always amazed by the intricate prints of lattice structures, the famous ‘Eiffel Tower’, various different cogs and gears etc., the list goes on. Where Carbon captured my interest and I am sure this is where they have made 3D Printing relevant for everybody, is by demonstrating the application for footwear through the partnership with Adidas. I look at the trainer and think, ‘I want one’. Even somebody who knows nothing about 3D Printing will appreciate and can see it. I think Carbon are approaching the market in the right way. They have developed a great technology but importantly they are focusing on developing specific and unique applications in partnership with customers and material companies. I think Carbon will be a key player in the plastic AM market and I am excited by their future announcements and applications.
Wednesday continued much in the same vein with meetings from 8.30am through to 8.30pm. I did have chance however to stop by a few of the smaller, newer entrants to the industry.
A technology that stood out was the Liquid Metal printing solution developed by Vader Systems. I had the pleasure of meeting their CEO, Scott Vader. The father and son team have embraced the start-up spirit and have already sold their first machine, built and assembled by themselves and their small, young team, at their head office in New York. The technology is definitely different and while it doesn’t offer the same quality of finish to that provided by the traditional laser based printers, it does offer a very competitive cost model where further finishing can be applied to provide an equal or better solution at much lower cost. On top of that the machine itself looks fantastic, with great design and quality finish. The business are currently seeking funding, which I am sure they will secure and provide the platform for them to move into wider production. Vader Systems are definitely one to keep your eye on.
The other business that I found very interesting was Rize. I was given the low down on their technology by VP of Marketing, Julie Reece. Another small start-up hailing from Woburn, MA, the RIZE ONE, is fundamentally an FDM printer that sits between the desktop models offered by the likes of Ultimaker and FormLabs, and the bigger models offered by Stratasys. Positioned as both a tool for prototyping and production, the RIZE ONE, delivers exceptional quality prints that require zero post processing and the opportunity to include printed text and images on thermoplastic parts. Again the design of the model is great but not being an engineer what struck me was how simple the user interface was. I was shown the machine and intuitively felt I could start using it immediately. I can easily see the RIZE ONE on desks in the lab or office.
While my meetings continued late into the evening over dinner, there were still exhibitors I had not had the chance to visit. Rapid 2017 was definitely a much bigger, better and more engaging event than Rapid 2016. I am now looking forward to TCT and Formnext later this year to see if they can follow the lead set by Rapid, especially Formnext as it looks to build on the success of the first year.
Note – There was a relatively big, but not as well publicised announcement from GKN as they launched GKN Additive Manufacturing, combining the powder metallurgy business with the process knowledge developed in aerospace. This is a significant move from the UK headquartered engineering group and somebody I believe have the capability to challenge some of the recent movers in the industry. I will look in more detail at this development in the ongoing series of posts I am doing titled ‘Oerlikon – Siemens – GE – HP – Global Giants, BUT who ‘WILL’ Industrialise Additive Manufacturing’. Previous posts on this subject can be found here: