RAPID + TCT Kicks Off: 3D Printing Community Gathers in Pittsburgh for a Week of Big Announcements


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The long-anticipated RAPID + TCT event has kicked off for 2017 in the Steel City, as Pittsburgh welcomes thousands of members of the 3D printing industry in North America’s largest additive manufacturing-focused tradeshow. Monday was already filled with some big announcements from some of the biggest companies in the industry, and these have been only the tip of the 3D printed iceberg as the week proper gets started.

Monday’s kickoff event featured several exciting speakers to get the conference’s sessions started off with some high energy and a taste of what’s to come. As the organizers of the event welcomed attendees in the packed ballroom, Debbie Holton, VP, Events and Industry Strategy, SME, and Duncan Wood, CEO, RAPID News Communications (which owns TCT) were on hand to lead the afternoon, remarking:

“As an attendee here, you’re one of the lucky ones,” Wood said. “Either you get additive or you’re about to get additive. You’re here because you either understand the potential or you’re intrigued by the potential of additive, and either way you’re pretty smart. There will be over 6,000 people here over the four days, and they all have something to share.”

“You’ll find this is more than an event; it’s a movement,” Holton continued.

The hall was packed for the kickoff.

The SME Additive Manufacturing Community Awards were distributed, including the Dick Aubin Distinguished Paper Award, Direct Digital Competition Award, and Industry Achievement Award.  The DDM Award went to a team from Virginia Tech who designed a customized golf club grip, authors Swati Chandran Thirumangalath, Scott Vader, and Zachary Vader won the Distinguished Paper Award for their work, “Liquid Metal 3D Printing: A Magnetohydrodynamic Approach,” while Dr. Dieter Schwarze, Head of Science and Technology Research, SLM Solutions, took home the 2017 Industry Achievement Award.

The presenters next welcomed to the stage the new Executive Director of America Makes, Rob Gorham, as he updated those gathered on the state of America Makes. He noted that the organization is:

  • An impartial convener of additive manufacturing and 3D printing stakeholders
  • A coordinator of technical and workforce information and data
  • An activation catalyst through high value, high difficulty, high impact collaborative projects

Today, the nearly five-year-old organization had two big announcements as it introduced the new America Makes @ Program, which will offer cost-share credits in lieu of annual membership dues, and the new America Makes Digital Storefront, offered in partnership with Siemens and Deloitte.

With our mission to increase US competitiveness, we believe this has to happen through enhanced engagements. We want to connect certain efforts with ours,” Gorham explained.

Next to the stage was Mickey McManus, in the first of the week’s high-level keynotes. McManus, the Chairman and Principal at MAYA Design and Research Fellow at Autodesk, presented a session entitled, “Networked Matter and the Nature of Things,” in which he examined “the nature of things: what happens when products and places wake up?” He presented several questions geared toward getting attendees to think, to really think, about the nature of the world as it is (and as it could be). Positing that, “Every time we make something, we learn about the world,” McManus explored the capacity for learning to influence the way we learn. Some of his thought-provoking leading thoughts included:

  • If we can make anything, we can make it right; the question is, what’s the right thing to make?
  • The IoT, combined with digital manufacturing and machine learning, creates a kind of “primordial soup” — what happens when all three of these mega-trends come together?
  • What would happen if a car participated in its own redesign?

He introduced the concept of the Dream Catcher project, which focuses on machine learning algorithms and generative design, asking if the computer can do the busy work, and what if form follows forces? While this project remains in the realm of research, McManus noted that some generative technology will appear over the next months in Netfabb. Looking to machine learning, he noted as well that we’ll be seeing a lot more co-creation, and to “think of it as a little bit of jazz” in which one force riffs off another to create a new whole. We’re looking here toward prediction.

From this look to what we might be seeing in the near future, we next turned back the clock to look at the last year. Well — not quite the last year, as it’s been a last 12 months of incredibly rapid growth in the additive manufacturing industry. Todd Grimm, President, T.A. Grimm & Associates, took us next into a session focused on “What’s New: Roundup of the latest 3D printing & 3D scanning products.” He promised (and delivered) a fast-paced presentation looking at a very quick run-through of some of the most recent product introductions and partnerships in 3D printers, 3D scanners, and 3D printing materials, all relying on seven ASTM classifications of technologies as well as hybrid. His overview included several of the past months’ whirlwind announcements, including those from:

  • Auxiliary tech introductions: Freeman Tech, Elcan, Ruwac USA, PostProcess Tech, Formlabs
  • New AM Processes: Paxis
  • DLP: EnvisionTEC, Admatec, Carbon, Coobx, 3D Systems
  • FDM/FFF: Stratasys, 3D Platform, Titan Robotics, Essentium/BASF
  • Trend – Metals: Vader, Adira, Markforged, Desktop Metal
  • Trend – Metals: Farsoon, SLM Solutions, Trumpf, AddUp, Sodick
  • Trend – Metals: BeAM Machines, Hybrid Mfg Tech, Optomec
  • Trend – Metals: Franhofer ILT, InnsTek, OR Laser, Aurora Labs
  • Trend – Bigger/Faster: ORNL/Ingersoll, Thermwood, 3D Hybrid Solutions
  • 3D Scanning – Artec, HP, Faro
  • 3D Scanning – Laser Design, Shining 3D, Polyrix
  • Trend – Materials – Ceramic, Silicone, Composite, Plastic/Metal
    • Ceramics: XJet, Admatec, Roland DGA
    • Silicone: Wacker opened the floodgates
    • Composite: Markforged, EnvisionTEC, Impossible Objects
    • Plastic/Metal: HP, Somos, Hoganas, PrintCB
  • Trend – Software: Design, Simulation, Control
    • Design: Frustum
    • Simulation: 3DSIM
    • Control: 3DSIM, Autodesk Netfabb, Materialise, Siemens, SAP

“You must keep your eyes open,” Grimm said. “This is what’s new, I know there’s other things that will be announced tomorrow. I suspect there will be more that’s announced. There’s dozens and dozens and dozens of things I have no time to cover. So what’s new? You’ll see that over the next three days at RAPID.”

Rounding out the afternoon was a panel of some exciting minds in the industry, wrangled by moderator Mickey McManus. Gathered onstage to discuss the Transformation of Manufacturing were Fried Vancraen, Founder and CEO, Materialise; Greg Morris, Additive Technologies Leader, GE Aviation; Vyomesh Joshi (VJ), President and CEO, 3D Systems; and Stephen Nigro, President-3D Printing, HP. Each of these thought leaders presented his company’s vision for how additive manufacturing can affect and impact manufacturing itself, focusing on some key applications and technologies. While the visions differed on a few fronts, all ultimately agreed that the keys to moving forward lie in educating teammates — beyond the engineers — and coming together as an industry.

Ultimately, the first day of RAPID set the stage for a vibrant week ahead, capped off by a Stratasys-hosted dinner ahead of their announcements set for Tuesday. Representatives from each organization appearing at RAPID have so far presented a well thought-out pathway to the next steps ahead. Unsurprisingly, given recent attention to the same at industry events, much of that future appears to be paved with co-creation/co-innovation, and partnerships set to bring new solutions to the table — as well as educational efforts geared toward spreading the word of the possible.

Share your thoughts on Day One in the RAPID forum at 3DPB.com.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]






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