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RAPID + TCT 2017: 3D Printing Has Come a Long Way

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Like fine wine, this event continues to improve year after year,” Terry Wohlers said in his keynote at RAPID + TCT.

Applause, and appreciative laughter, followed Wohlers’ statement yesterday as the gathered crowd pondered his words. No one would know better than he about the growth of this particular event, as he’s attended — and spoken at — RAPID for 25 consecutive years, and has been heading Wohlers Associates and watching the industry growing around 3D printing for over 30 years now. Indeed, even since last year’s event, this year RAPID had a noticeably different energy to it as the industry and event have both seen growth just over the last 12 months. Amidst the hullabaloo of announcements, introductions, partnerships, metal, polymers, plasma, networking, and interviews, there was one even larger theme surrounding RAPID + TCT this week in Pittsburgh: we’ve come a long way, baby.

This week has been intense, filled from even before the official start time with announcements as companies brought their latest and greatest to showcase for the first time at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. From Desktop Metal’s highly anticipated (and highly funded) debut to Stratasys’ new continuous 3D printing system, 3D Systems’ latest multi-material 3D printer, HP’s announced strategy for 3D printing in 2017 and beyond, Essentium’s plasma-based fusing technology, EnvisionTEC’s newest materials and 3D printer updates, and Impossible Objects’ CBAM-based Model One, among so much more, four days wasn’t enough to properly see the entirety of what this show had to offer. It definitely kept team busy, as Mike, Eddie, and I logged some miles around the exhibit floor and around Pittsburgh.

Throughout the morning sessions and keynotes, some of the industry’s best-informed analysts and participants apprised attendees of the state of and future for 3D printing, singly and in dynamic panel presentations. During Monday’s kick-off eventDebbie Holton, VP, Events and Industry Strategy, SME, and Duncan Wood, CEO, Rapid News Communications, owner, TCT welcomed those gathered: 

Wood: “As an attendee here you’re one of the lucky ones; either you get additive or you’re about to get additive.”

Holton: “You’ll find this is more than an event, it’s a movement… You are part of the community in the future of manufacturing.”

Wood: “Many of the experts, and there are many here this week, are still guessing. You’re here because you either understand the potential or you’re intrigued by the potential, 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.”

Wood’s comment held very true, as every individual I spoke with over the course of this week had something new to share; if not new technology from a well-known company or startup, a new perspective from a medical professional, or insights into the industry from long-time journalists and even philosophical exchanges at a nearby makerspace on Wednesday night. This sharing of ideas and exchange of information underscored a vibrancy to this industry, and went back to a favorite quote of mine from Bill Nye (The Science Guy): “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” Another heartening observation from this year’s show was the makeup of attendees, as well; notably more women were present, and I was fortunate to start most days of the conference talking with some real women tours-de-force in 3D printing.

As has been a rising trend, much of the focus at RAPID + TCT remained on the importance of partnerships and collaborations. Yesterday’s panel featuring Mark Cotteleer, Managing Director, Deloitte Services, LP; Todd Grimm, President, T.A.Grimm & Associates Inc.; Graham Tromans, Owner and Principal Industry Consultant, GP Tromans Associates; and Robin Wilson, Head of Manufacturing, Innovate UK, moderated by TCT’s Jim Woodcock, turned back to this important theme.

“One thing big impact you don’t necessarily see on the show floor is this attitude of partnership,” Grimm said. “‘I can do it all’ is absolutely ludicrous.”

We see a lot of partnerships come together, I think that’s vital, a vital area, I’d like to see more of that,” said Tromans. “Hardware, material, and software suppliers need talk to more industries, talk to aerospace and automotive companies, ask them what they want rather than develop something and say, ‘We’ve done something, can you use it?’ If they talk to people and can develop things in specialist applications, I think that will move this industry forward a lot.”

I agree with perspective on more sharing,” Cotteleer confirmed. “I think that’s starting to change, people are coming together.”

That coming together is perhaps the biggest sign of a maturing industry, as the still-young world of additive manufacturing begins to truly turn more toward collaboration than pure competition. Going back to Wohlers’ analogy, the wine that is 3D printing is indeed growing finer as it ages.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]


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