Against all odds, Formnext 2020, the largest annual event in the additive manufacturing industry, had still been planning to hold an in-person, if somewhat watered down, trade show in Germany this November. But, these well-laid plans have finally come crashing to a halt.
“Despite Corona, we have been planning the Formnext 2020 incorporating a maximum of protection and safety for the health of our exhibitors and visitors. However, the current progression of the COVID19 pandemic makes it impossible to hold a physical Formnext in Frankfurt after all,” the Formnext site states.
It was early February 2020 when I first remember hearing about COVID-19, or SARS‑CoV‑2, and by that time the novel coronavirus had already been declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern; this was upgraded to a pandemic on March 11th, and the world started shutting down. Restaurants and bars were shuttered, children were sent home from school, employees were tasked with working remotely, and travel came to a halt, which was really unfortunate for the 3D printing industry. Personally, I was supposed to fly to Florida in June for the 3DEXPERIENCE Forum, but instead attended the first Plenary Session for the new “3DEXPERIENCE: A Virtual Journey” from my home office in July.
A few months ago, 3DPrint.com began publishing a weekly roundup of available virtual events and webinars, since there’s so much online content to choose from now. For the first time since World War II, the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) was cancelled, and will be presenting some virtual content later this month. The ASTM International Conference on Additive Manufacturing (ASTM ICAM 2020) was supposed to take place in Florida from November 16-20, but has also been moved to a virtual format. SXSW was called off, as was RAPID + TCT, and FABTECH 2020 and the new Formnext + PM South China were cancelled. The Materialise World Summit was initially postponed, but has since been cancelled.
Only a few in-person events remain, including Formnext 2020 and Inside 3D Printing Seoul, both of which are scheduled for November, and TCT Asia, which took place in July. Formnext hung on as long as it could, first stating that it would be hosting fewer attendees to keep things less crowded, and then announcing safety protocols, such as heavy cleaning, wider aisles, touchless registration, and virtual access. But finally this week, the event organizers announced that, due to the continuing COVID-19 crisis, Formnext was officially moving to a digital-only format for 2020.
“The current rise of the COVID-19 infection figures in Germany, Europe and around the world have led to increasing uncertainty among exhibitors and visitors,” Petra Haarburger, President of Mesago Messe Frankfurt, said in a press release. “Together with the renewed tightening of official and in-house travel restrictions, this will no longer allow the otherwise highly international Formnext to be carried out in the accustomed quality.”
From November 10-13, 2020, the new all-digital event, Formnext Connect, will offer attendees multiple services, from online meetings with exhibitors and live streaming and on-demand content to exhibitor presentations and AI-supported intelligent matchmaking with all participants. The site states that Formnext Connect will be the “virtual alternative for business and knowledge exchange” for the worldwide AM industry during COVID-19, and that it will bring “the fAMily together!”
“We have been planning Formnext 2020 for months now. We have done this consistently and with the full support of our Exhibitor Advisory Board and with the highest level of protection and safety for the health of our exhibitors and visitors. In doing so, we examined the entire layout of the fair from scratch from the halls with all entrances, booths, to the aisles,” stated Sascha F. Wenzler, Vice President Formnext Mesago Messe Frankfurt. “We devised completely new stand construction packages, spacing and communication areas in accordance with the health and hygiene concept agreed with the authorities. Our disappointment at the end of the summer is all the greater now that we have to recognise that the course of the pandemic is destroying our efforts to make these personal encounters possible again.”
Just looking at the above image from last year’s Formnext event makes me uneasy now, seeing all those people crammed together, long before any of them had learned the phrase “social distancing.” I believe that going virtual is the smartest and safest choice for Formnext, no matter how disappointing it may be for the industry as a whole.
But here’s the silver lining – the additive manufacturing field has really stepped up during this crisis, helping to 3D print ventilators and PPE like face shields, working to strengthen supply chains, demonstrating flexible production, and helping to manage the effort behind these actions. Mesago has praised the industry’s work, stating that “there is no doubt that AM will be one of the leading technologies that will lead the way out of the recession.”
“In the course of the crisis, the additive technolgies have shown the potential of flexible, diversified and decentralised production,” the website states.
“It will play a major role in the development of new products, the design of resilient supply chains and the development of sustainable business models.”
So although Formnext 2020 will be online only this year, it seems we’ll still have a lot to talk about at the event.
(Source: TCT Magazine)
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