The theme this year for RAPID + TCT, the largest additive manufacturing show in the Northern Hemisphere, was ‘The Next Level’, and next level it certainly was! There were exhibitors, there were talks, there were numerous networking functions, and there were product launches!
Most people like to get in a day early to timezone adjust, settle in, and get ready for a big week ahead, but SME would not let us rest! Monday was host to a number of workshops on topics such as business case development, casting, and 3d scanning to name a few; additionally there was a Fundamentals of Additive manufacturing course and exam which, if completed, successfully, garners you official SME certification. The Additive Manufacturers Green Trade Association also had a successful Monday, taking advantage of many of their member companies being in town to hold their Annual Summit, and promote their recent published life cycle assessment on an additively manufactured bracket. I got a brief moment with CEO Sherri Monroe to discuss this during the show.
Come Tuesday we were ready for show time! In addition to the 350+ exhibitors, there was also a Main Stage with a high-calibre speakers rotating through the stage all day, and the Tech Hub for events such as the all-new Pitch Fest, which was standing room only every time I walked past it. There’s also a paid conference option run by the TCT Group, which included concurrent tracks on industry verticals such as healthcare, aerospace, defense and consumer goods; R&D tracks on materials, process, IP and standards; and an all new conference theme called ‘ecosystem’ with tracks on supply chain, sustainability, post-processing, and workforce development – a hot topic of late!
It’s important to remember that this industry and these shows are not just about us. SME also hosted the Bright Minds Student Summit on the first day, bringing high school students into the show to experience guided show-floor tours, and attend the keynotes. Those high school kids were likely highly impressed by Tuesday keynote speaker, Kevin Czinger from Divergent Technologies who spoke about how through the Divergent Adaptive Production Systems (DAPS) is going to change business models and localize manufacturing for the automotive industry on a global scale. Many industry participants came away positively buoyant about the future that Kevin described, and this was no doubt an inspiration for the future of our manufacturing workforce that attended RAPID + TCT this year.
It was an outstanding show for Women in 3D Printing (Wi3DP), an official partner of SME, who had their first booth this year, providing an in-person experience of the TIPE conference that extended to not only the impactful teal and white color scheme, but also showcasing of women CEOs in the industry, and providing a welcoming meeting place for everyone. Wi3DP also hosted a sold-out Happy Hour in the SME zone on Wednesday and hosted a panel ‘Mastering the pivot: senior management’s perspective on securing the additive industry in times of economic downturn’. A very welcome announcement came out on Wednesday thanks to America Makes who have generously offered engagement grants for US Wi3DP chapters. Adam Penna had a nice chat with Sarah Goehrke on the booth on the numerous Wi3DP initiatives taking place this year.
As far as latest news goes, there was plenty to cover! These shows are always the best places to unveil a new product, announce a partnership, or promote some of your company’s latest innovations, and RAPID + TCT did not disappoint. The following are just some of the announcements:
- nTop – a rebrand, a new logo and a new name (but not new right? We already called it nTop for short), but more importantly, the release of nTop4! Introducing ‘Field Optimisation’ that helps engineers more quickly arrive at an optimum design solutions for complex engineering applications.
- Fabrisonic released the SonicLayer 1600, a mid-size machine for customers who want to bring ultrasonic 3d printing in-house. I had a nice chat with CEO Mark Norfolk on the booth.
- DMG Mori launched the LASERTEC SLM 30 US, a completely American designed, engineered and made machine, with Adaptive Beam Control for changing beam parameters on the fly.
- Impossible Objects announced the CBAM 25, a composite printer that they claim prints fifteen times faster than their competitors. Adam Penna and I interviewed CEO Steve Hoover on AM News LIVE on the Monday before the show where he likened their print speed advantage to a Formula 1 car vs a human sprinter.
- FormAlloy debuted their wire-feed capability for their DED system, an addition to their powder-feed capability. They had some fantastic parts on display and I enjoyed talking with CEO and Co-founder Melanie Lang about this latest news, plus some future plans for FormAlloy.
- Nexa3D released the XiP Pro – a medium-sized vat photopolymerization that has ungradeable hardware and open for third-party resins.
- SPEE3D premiered the XSPEE3D system designed for rapid deployment to remote locations. They had their machine operating on the booth churning out mini-rocket engines.
The industry as a whole is upping their game when it comes to attracting people to their stands, and this year we saw some beautifully creative approaches. The one that got everyone talking was the MELD manufacturing Star Wars themed booth, with elements of MELD parts throughout, whether that was in the stand design with a 10-foot diameter aluminum ring, or an entirely metal printed BB8 on wheels. Bonus points go to the staff for going all-out and even dressing up for May the 4th and handing out free lightsabers, bringing a very eye-catching Comic-Con feel to the show.
I really enjoyed spending time on the Xtellar booth as they had worked with the designers at DIVE to think of creative ways of showcasing their sustainable materials for 3d printing. 3D printed acoustic dampening trees adorned the booth, which including a Boston Dynamics Spot dog with 3d printed security accessories, and a little nook with their 3d printed X-chairs, and 3d printed planters. The result of the partnership between DIVE and Xtellar sure beat a booth with a load of filament spools on display, and it was fun to chat with DIVE Co-founder Adam Hecht about their mission in bringing AM to the masses.
I think nearly everyone was keen to get their hands on Wilson 3d printed airless basketball, and RAPID + TCT provided plenty of opportunities, as there were example balls and basketball rings on the EOS stand, DyeMansion stand, and General Lattice stand. Suddenly we got a look at how AM professionals fair as ballers. My takeaway – don’t give up your day job folks (myself included)!
One last special mention to XJET that showcased a 3d printed ceramic saxophone mouthpiece which has been tested by professional sax players over the world and received hugely positive feedback. It was also a great excuse for XJET to put a saxophone duo playing on the stand on the Wednesday afternoon. I might also have caught Chief Business Office Dror Danai having a little boogie.
The whole week at RAPID + TCT was absolutely action packed and there was something for everyone; if you came as an industry stalwart, a beginner, or even a high school student, there was more than enough to see and do for those couple of days in Chicago. RAPID + TCT definitely brought ‘the next level’ to the show and the attendees, exhibitors, and speakers absolutely matched that energy!