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Formnext 2019: Highlights, Trends and Review

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The most succinct way to sum up Formnext 2019 is: overwhelming. Whereas last year I had the feeling I knew where everything was, this time it was so big as to make you lose all sense of direction and placeness. The three halls with their ups and downs made this confusing as well. It also made appointments very hectic. I also spoke to a whole number of people who had missed entire halls. Having the halls separated by floor and even in different buildings is clearly not practical. Overall though everything was clear and well organized. This is now the established, definitive 3D printing show. 

With 35% more exhibitors, there were reportedly 160 new companies exhibiting at Formnext. Indeed the overly crowded exhibitor dinner had more people going to it than some other 3D printing shows. Everything felt more crowded and bigger. In talking to a lot of exhibitors though they felt that Formnext has still maintained lead quality. There are few school kids and tourists nearly only industry people there. Being still a show with a lot of deals and meetings does mean that a lot of people are stand tied and don’t get to see the show. I myself had 45 meetings which was stupid of me really. But even then I only got to meet with 5% of all exhibitors.

If anyone was in any doubt about this being the definitive AM show, this year removed these doubts. It’s up to other shows to either champion a region or go into a vertical now because Formnext is it. It is still an accessible show for visitors although some flight and hotel prices were bordering on the silly. All in all the show felt short. I had a continual fear of missing out. I would have happily taken another day to explore all of the stands. 

Key executives from all over the world were in attendance and all the major players in many verticals were represented. If you’re new to the industry or in the market for a post-processing machine, a printer or a service you should go to this show. This is your only opportunity to see everything and meet everyone. All the days were reasonably busy except for the Friday which was essentially stand holder filled. This day is perfect though to go around and check out the competition and see the things that you haven’t seen.

Waiting for the exhibitor party

The parties were off the hook with stands offering gin tonics, bands, super irritating house music. There were parties and events late into the night. Amidst all the large stands and blow out budget activities it can be difficult to get noticed as a small or medium company. You could easily spend a 100k and formnext and get no attention. For small firms, I’d advise them to make it more about networking and entertaining than trying to make a splash with a stand. Medium to large firms will need to think harder and work harder to get noticed at this show. Just a few canapes or some designed multi-story stand is not enough to get noticed here.

Thor at the Spe3D stand.

For PR and press people it was a hectic time as well. Some were trying to set up meetings a few days before the event when most press was booked full. Reportedly there was at least one press conference with only one attendee. Please please don’t do press conferences, they’re silly. If you want to release a general update on your firm then try to release it along with interesting news a few weeks before formnext. There is actually a lull in press releases then as everyone awaits for formnext. If we publish then this will drive traffic to your stand. Also, a lot of people were trying to tempt us with case studies or general updates and this simply wasn’t enough. We were overwhelmed by the amount of news. Feel free to try to break significant news during formnext but I’d advise you to do so before.

General spend is high and expertise is growing. Many stands were very nice, accessible and informative. Once again a box of parts or a mysterious box-like machine is not going to cut it. It still surprised me that so few stands clearly explained in large words what the heck they did to the passers-by.

Highlights 

1. For me, the number one highlight was Evolve Additive. I’ve never seen parts that crisp looking with such good labeling quality. If the throughput and pricing hold up this long stealthy startup could make good on its 3D printing polymers for consumer applications promise. Parts were small and low and I wonder how big they can make it go but it is very promising.

2. Aquasys water-soluble support for ABS, PC and many other FDM materials. Support for FDM has sucked so far. Either it is breakaway which is painful to your hands and bottom line or its super nasty in terms of materials or it is PVA which sucks to work with. With a specialized support company developing support materials now the support situation could improve. Given the huge installed base of FDM systems this is a significant market.

3. Through and through mixed parts of flexible and hard materials at 3NTR. 3NTR makes workhorse printers and they showed me several parts that were a true mix of TPU and hard materials. Yes, we’ve all seen this before but here the adhesion was much better. They had parts that were printed through and through with TPU and hard materials mixed in. So not two distinct parts but more like a true gradient part. This could really extend the usefulness of FDM.

4. 6K Additive’s Designed Alloys it is super nice that 6K wants to make materials from cuttings and other metal waste. But the additional promise of being able to, perhaps, in a cost-effective way make designed alloys that could combine 5 materials with different melting temperatures into a single alloy specifically made for one particular application could have a significant impact.

5. Copper. Many people from GE to Optomec showcased copper parts. I’m hugely excited about copper as a material to aid in heat sinks and other heat management applications and in the electrification of cars. It was possible in a limited way on EBM and some platforms but broader copper applications could move us into new markets. 

I was far from being able to see everything so maybe I missed some things here?

Top Trends 

the Pulvermeister is now but one of several automated depowdering solutions.

  1. Post-processing is happening. DyeMansion, AMT and many other firms showcased post-processing equipment and solutions. This is a real bellwether for our industry and continued growth in this segment would indicate that we’re actually manufacturing.

Clariant can make you this batch in a specific color and it conforms to the relevant FST regulations.

2. Application-specific materials continue to grow. With the growth of materials and with new polymer and metals vendors we’re seeing a lot more materials and material grades. Some are much-needed evolutions such as safer resins, while others are new grades of existing materials or new things like Sabic’s polycarbonate for Sintering which is under development. With better applications and better material and machine fit to those applications, we can really unlock manufacturing.

I just can not stop thinking about laser sintered PC. With great refresh and new properties, this could be a great material.

3. Large format in metal and polymers is growing. There are now many more vendors such as polymer firms CEAD and Thermwood as well as companies selling blown powder and wire fed metal printing companies. Will all of these firms find customers? It is doubtful at the moment.

Addilan is a closed loop WAAM technology that could build large scale parts out of metal inexpensively.

4. Polymer companies are in charge. Far from being clumsy gorillas, it seems now that the polymer companies such as DSM and Solvay are managing to develop applications, develop new businesses and create new manufacturing possibilities. They’ve surpassed OEMs and are now in the driving seat.

5. Much new software, all of it confusing. There is a tonne of new software available and its a total morass to the people in the industry. Most of it is super new and we don’t know how to use it. Software is very important to 3D Printing but the landscape is filling with vendors with all claims and no installations. 

6. Everyone has an ecosystem, we are a platform, let’s all be friends, develop manufacturing applications together strategy. Either we’re all super smart together or we’re all making the same mistakes.

It was an awesome time and I’ll see you next year.

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