An Unforgettable AMUG | 3D Printing Leadership Redefined in 2021

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“Please wear a mask in public spaces,” the Hilton Hotel lobby signage makes it pretty clear upon arrival that they want their guests to feel comfortable and safe while on the property. Suddenly, it hits me again: the last time I was at a conference was well over a year ago when it was a much simpler time. As I head towards AMUG badge check-in, I glance at the “6 feet social distancing” stickers on the hotel floor and my anticipation begins to grow… we are really doing it!

I collect my AMUG badge and head to the backpack collection area. Two gentlemen are laughing together, one masked and one without a mask, as they hand me my bag with my very own AMUG mask – cool. As I walk towards the elevators, I run into the famous and maskless Tom Sorovetz, who tells me, “Our area is private, so it’s totally acceptable to proceed with or without a mask on — we simply ask that you respect other people’s comfort level.” Again, very cool.

The exhibition has already been open for a few hours and I enter to see elbow bumps, handshakes, smiles, masks and wide eyes as this entire community is thankful to be together once again. It’s commonly understood that most participants comprehend the risks associated with COVID-19 and are also encouraged to speak up if they wish for their comrades to mask up or stay socially distant. It’s the most respectful, pleasant and gratifying social experience that I’ve had in the past 15 months.

Due to travel restrictions, many international OEMs are unable to attend or exhibit. In addition, many prominent U.S. AM organizations have opted out. Although the exhibition show floor is probably 30-40% smaller than years past, the electricity in the air has only increased. In fact, this may have opened doors for smaller startups and lesser known companies to make an impact. Personally, I met many first-timers during AMUG 2021 and I expect them to be back in 2022.

“It’s exactly what I was told it was going to be,” one first-timer mentions to me. “So where is this special offsite event?” Another newbie looks at me with odd suspicion.

“Oh, we will definitely be back next year!” A young and energetic CEO says to me while we munch on empanadas following a great DoD presentation dedicated to the warfighter innovation series. As always, the conference was packed with some of the most talented speakers and presenters sharing industry highlights, new technologies and amazing collaborations that are pushing the industry even further.

Quick Highlights and Announcements from the Event

The ExOne Metal Designlab printer and X1F advanced furnace. Image courtesy of ExOne.

  • The impact of certain OEMs and material providers not exhibiting at AMUG this year was certainly noticeable. Historically prominent sponsors such as Stratasys, HP, DSM SOMOS (now Covestro) and Desktop Metal decided to opt out. In years past, these companies were heavily represented on the show floor with countless employees and multiple speaking slots throughout the conference. However, this may have paved the way for lesser-known companies to shine.
  • ExOne, Diamond Sponsor, introduced the new Metal Designlab Printer and X1F Sintering Furnace. They made a significant splash at AMUG and participated in multiple panels and presentations throughout the week. This metal binder jetting technology continues to be a steady and successful solution within the market.
  • Another Diamond Sponsor, Dyndrite, is a relatively young startup (less than four-years-old) that is making huge waves in AM. Their accelerated computation engine is a turbocharged solution that is dramatically reducing part processing time. It is also compatible with Python, the world’s most accessible language. I received a first hand demonstration on the HP Universal Build Manager platform and it’s worth investigating further.
  • Matt Donovan, Chief Engineer of Metal AM at Jabil, presented to a standing room only audience regarding Quality Inspection. It was clear from Matt’s presentation that there is a significant interest for Jabil, and others, to continue collaborating and building partnerships to move the industry forward. This was a common theme throughout the conference for many participants.
  • The Warfighter Innovation panel discussion lasted for almost three hours and included some of the brightest minds the US military has to offer. If you haven’t read the DoD AM Strategy Report released in January 2021, I highly recommend it. It’s clear that the defense industry was well represented at AMUG.
  • Carl Dekker ran unopposed for AMUG President and will remain at the helm for 2022 when the conference heads to Chicago, IL.
  • Todd Grimm presented a very thoughtful and informative Innovator Showcase interview with Dr. Hans Langer, Founder and Former CEO of EOS GmbH.
  • 2021 AMUG Technical Competition Winners: Vito Gervasi (Cadens LLC) took home the 1st place award for the Advanced Concepts Category while Bill Braune (Dinsmore, Inc.) secured another 1st place award for Advanced Finishing. Truly amazing artwork from some of the most talented and creative minds this industry has to offer.

What You Missed

As is always the case with AMUG and can never be replaced with a virtual meeting is the natural networking amongst industry movers and shakers. Young and aspiring engineers seamlessly connect with veterans who have generations of knowledge and experience. The Women in 3D Printing group continues to gain momentum and has become an excellent lighthouse example of leadership for the industry. The morning coffee conversations between the highly confidential and unbelievably honest will no doubt lead to promising partnerships that may define the industry.

Todd Grimm conducting his Innovator Showcase interview with Dr. Hans Langer, Founder and Former CEO of EOS GmbH. Image courtesy of AMUG.

Standardization was a hot topic at AMUG 2021. It’s obvious that metal AM is a strategic focus for many industries and it’s more important than ever to qualify materials and processes for super critical components and applications. How do we improve in-process monitoring to provide truly repeatable parts? What can be done to address market adoption hesitancy? Who will lead the standards and regulatory process? There are more questions than answers at this point in time but that doesn’t mean there isn’t progress. Hardware, software and material providers are actively engaged and seeking assistance from end users, research institutes and others to create new solutions.

What would AMUG be without a surprise field trip? After a short bus ride we arrived at Universal Studios with private access to several theme park rides, great music, entertainment, and all the food and drink one can handle. After a year of quarantine, it was an ironic but pleasant experience to walk down the replicated streets of old New York or Pier 39 in San Francisco while in Orlando, Florida. As is tradition at AMUG, attendees celebrated the night away. For all you Harry Potter fans, you missed an incredible experience at Hogwarts Castle!

Final Thoughts…

2021 was my 10 year anniversary attending AMUG. A decade ago, there were less than 100 people in attendance, two to three major sponsors, and the conversation was predominantly focused on polymers. This year, there were approximately 800 attendees, numerous sponsors, and a very high mix of software, hardware, polymer and metal material discussions. Metal AM has come a long way and it’s very, very exciting to see where the industry is heading.

My AMUG branded face mask and booklet.

Personally and professionally, I am very thankful and appreciative to the AMUG committee for hosting this event in 2021. This was not an easy decision but I truly believe that it’s going to take leaders like Carl Dekker, Todd Grimm, and others who are willing to safely help navigate this industry and others out of the most unprecedented and challenging time of our lives. Leading with compassion, providing an open environment and enabling people to make their own decisions is what makes us grow as an industry. We may have just witnessed the first great step in the right direction and I’m proud to be an AMUG member.

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