AMS Spring 2023

Tips for Surviving Your First 3D Printing Trade Show

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With the most severe COVID restrictions seemingly paused, at least for the moment, it seems as though trade show season is back n full swing. And, if the crowd at RAPID + TCT May 17-19 in Detroit was any indicator of the overall 3D printing conference scene, industry events this year should be packed, which makes planning ahead all the more important.

This is especially true if you’ve never been to one before. Although it seemed like everyone else at RAPID + TCT was a seasoned conference veteran, there still have to be plenty of first-timers like me out there. If you’re one of them, here are some tips that might help you survive.

Proximity

Try to find an event close to you: While I had the luxury of going to Detroit as part of my normal writing assignments, it might not make sense to travel so far (I flew in from LA), unless you’re hosting a booth there. Fortunately, especially during the busy season, there are 3D printing trade shows all over the country. Since you can probably knock out all the things you want to see in one busy day, there’s no reason to plan an overnight trip around attending, if you can avoid it. That said, there are a few caveats: conferences may be key to networking and, given that RAPID + TCT is the biggest additive trade show in North America, you’ll be able to connect with people that may not make it to a local event. 

Get Comfortable

Eat a good breakfast, wear comfortable shoes, and get there early if you can: I stumbled across one of these tips simply from being a generally anxiety-ridden person. In this case, it worked out in my favor. Getting to the convention center early let me beat the worst of the initial opening rush, and walking around the trade show floor while it was less crowded allowed me to familiarize myself with the layout. I usually don’t have such a strong sense of direction, but at RAPID + TCT, I was constantly leaving 3DPrint.com editor-in-chief Michael Molitch-Hou speechless with my preternatural ability to navigate from booth to booth.

As for comfortable shoes, even though the event will be indoors, plan to do a lot of walking. Finally, breakfast is important because — in addition to saving time throughout your visit — you probably don’t want to rely on your daily nutrition coming from anywhere near a convention center.

Everyone was very interested in this 3D printed PolyJet head. I was a little bit scared of it

Plan Ahead

Plan what you’re most interested in seeing in advance: If you can’t get there early, you can still maximize your time at the trade show by figuring out ahead of time which booths you’re most interested in seeing. No matter what show you’re attending, there will almost certainly be a list of the exhibits available online before you get there.

In this case, it can also help if you have access to someone more knowledgeable about 3D printing than you are. When I was overwhelmed by how many companies were offering me the opportunity to set up appointments for a booth tour, given the limited amount of time, Mike helped me figure out which ones I wanted to prioritize. Since I wanted to make sure I saw at least one software exhibit, for instance, he suggested I take up Altair on their generous offer to set aside time to show me their software platform.

Be Social

Don’t be afraid to talk to people: If you’re like me, interacting with new faces wasn’t in your wheelhouse before the end of days, and the arrival of the apocalypse hasn’t really improved matters. Nevertheless, the inherent design of a trade show can bring the social butterfly out of even the most misanthropic individual. Moreover, there’s nothing a 3D printing specialist wants more than for someone to ask them what they’re working on, so it’s a good opportunity to brush up on the art of conversation. You might even luck out, and get to talk to someone as friendly and informative as Ravi Kunju, the senior VP of strategy and business development for Altair’s simulation driven design division.

This was probably one of the most popular objects at the entire show: a concept motorcycle designed for Airbus with Altair AM software.

Be Prepared

Have your questions prepared: In general, if there’s one thing I wished I’d done more of before I’d gotten to RAPID + TCT, it’s to have figured out more specifically what questions I wanted to ask at the event. This is because, given how insanely busy everyone working at each booth is, there’s really no time for breaks in the conversation: so, once one happens, you start to notice how eager the person you’re talking to is to wrap things up, which at least in my experience neutralizes your capacity to think on the spot.

My saving grace with talking to VP Kunju was that I’d spent a significant amount of time in the couple of months prior to the event reading and writing and—thus presumably to some extent—thinking about 3D printing software. In that case, I was sufficiently prepared to discuss the topic at hand. Clearly, a true engineer at heart, Kunju provided some of the points most worth thinking about from the entire show, among which was, “I think there’s nothing dumber that you can do than to 3D print something just to 3D print something.”

He then very straightforwardly explained why he thought Altair’s Inspire Print3D software was the smart way to do things. He showed me very generally what it means to the engineering process that the software automates the design process, while optimizing it for 3D printing. Thanks to Mr. Kunju, I do generally understand why simulation software like Altair’s allows engineers to shorten the time it takes to create a new design from as long as 2-3 months to as quickly as a day. I had already entered the premises on the first day believing that advances in software are the hinge on which the industry rests, so maybe I just had my biases confirmed, but my visit at the Altair booth solidified that belief.

Yearn to Wander

With all that said, the only other recommendation I have would be to spend at least some time walking aimlessly around the trade show floor. It’ll give you a good feel for the pulse of the industry. Also, it’ll be a bit of a desert of pure commerce and marketing in there, so make sure you stake out ample water supplies. All the machines and lights make the room very hot.

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