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Formnext 2021: First Day Impressions of Post-Lockdown 3D Printing

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Formnext is back and we’ve headed once more to Frankfurt, the lovely city where you can see people smoking crack on the street at 19:00 while the financiers zoom by on their electric scooters. It’s like Blade Runner without the production values—with all of the neon stripped out. Some of the world’s hardiest sex workers brave the cold by the roadside, as you, homeless, dodge your way to your restaurant amidst architecturally unambitious office towers filled with ambitious people.

I’ve been coming here for a long time and, if you couldn’t tell, I feel as though there is something soul-destroying about this place. I’m fascinated by Frankfurteristi. I stare at them for far too long, amazed at why they would live here. Yes, you’re wearing a cashmere sweater or a Super 150’s suit, but wool won’t warm your soul. Munich, Berlin, have you been? Frankfurt is the color of parking garages and feels like a scalpel’s tip. After a long day, my aching feet melt into that hotel carpet, my pillow, just feet away, beckons.

I must press on, however, to tell you about one of the happiest days of my life. Yes, it was the first day of Formnext 2021. It was wonderful to be here and see everyone. Simply, totally wonderful. I met so many people that I hadn’t seen for a year or two that it was a completely lovely day. I met lots of interesting new people, as well. It was great to be at a show again, as well. To walk around, see everything and get inspired. Another year, no real progress. We continue to chip away at our problems, and, once again, nothing really changes—just the logos. Feel’s great to be back.

I really loved feeling the support of my industry, the varied opinions, the gossip, the excitement. It really felt wonderful to discuss things, trends, news, and developments again. It was exciting to hear of people with divergent opinions and other points of view. It was good to see everyone come out in force and gather. It felt like a warm blanket. I learned throughout the day and already have some seedlings of completely new ideas and concepts to brood over for weeks. It was lovely.

Things I Noticed 

Now, if I told you a year ago that the Freemelt stand would be bigger than that of GE Additive, would you have believed me? Everyone on the BASF stand is wearing polos, as well. At least one of them has a tattoo. So, clearly there is a bit of a readjustment going on. BASF wants to get comfortable and is here to stay, but in a friendlier way than before. GE, meanwhile, is taking a deep breath before hopefully charging forward again. DMG Mori has seven different 3D printers and I can’t fathom which one I would recommend to whom.

Generally, everyone is much more professional once again. Marketing is more slick, stands are more informative and everything is very creative. There are, of course, significantly fewer attendees. But, a lot more professionals and industry people. We seem to have gotten rid of a lot of the casual AM people. There is still a lot of candy, much of it is Haribo, but clearly the Celebrations mix candy by Mars is winning. People on the whole were more engaging and open to talk. But, there were a lot of stands still where people were not doing anything to engage new contacts or customers. No one was even trying to engage attendees for conversation. I can’t fathom why people would invest so much money in a stand to just check their emails all day.

Trends 

  • Overall, we can see a strong application focus. In the items OEMs demonstrate, the startups that are there, and the topics people are talking about, we’ve become very application- and use case-focused which, of course, is wonderful.
  • I heard over and over again that attendees were having good conversations with good people and that the knowledge and level of engagement with AM was higher than usual.
  • The businesses in the startup area were much more mature than before. They too had better explanations, were better able to showcase their wares, and seemed more professional.
  • The value propositions of the new startups were much more powerful as well.
  • A lot of companies had downsized their booths compared to last year, but there were also firms that have really become more prominent.
  • Generally, people had thought much more about how people flow around their stand and find information. There were areas for self-learning, parts to touch, and areas to mingle. Much better than before.
  • Stands were very focused on mingling and exchange and much more open than before.
  • Compared to a few years ago, people were more open to giving you a coffee or being hospitable.
  • There was a remarkable difference between small team stands, insular stands, partner stands and popular stands. At the popular ones, I could see a mix of a lot of non-company folks mingle with others around the company’s technology. At partner stands, it really seemed like the stand was busy, but it was really only just partners. Insular stands were mainly populated by employees of the company. You could literally count and find out that 80% were coworkers of the company talking to each other. That is silly. Small team stands do tend to look lonelier, but they do have substantive conversations with visitors.
  • This is still a big meeting event where top industry people in little teeny booths brokering power.
  • Everyone was friendlier and more approachable than usual.
  • There were a lot of more professional and much bigger booths from Korean firms making a much more elevated presence for the country.
  • Chinese firms were showing off their competitive muscle and also making much more of a splash than usual.
  • There are more reseller stands than before.

There were lots of parts and lots of parts that you could see up close and handle. Always love this and always learn from this. Stay tuned for more of my coverage of Formnext 2021 in subsequent posts.

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