AMS Spring 2023

Formnext 2022, Day Two: Can You Make Sweaters from Electric Sheep?

6K SmarTech

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I’m acclimating to Frankfurt. I’m ready to be assimilated into the Borg. I’ll wear a suit and with bowed head take the tram to a cavernous building to call people loudly all day while looking at spreadsheets. I’ll be a finance automaton. My morning double caramel macchiato is my only daily post-workout indulgence. Because anything would be better than this headache. There was a really loud band, the clink of glasses, very efficient and fast-moving, capable catering people carrying crates of Becks. There were lots of nibbles and teeny versions of everything. And then this headache.

Stand Trends

The social scene is off the hook this time. There are multiple dinners and parties. People have catering in Museums (Xjet) and lots of firms are offering drinks at their stands. The multi-level booths are now rare. Big, but open stands that you can walk around and through are now increasingly popular—similar to those of Arburg and Trumpf last year. Some companies downsized. There’s generally a motif of less glitz and more substance. Booth design is getting better, with stands smarter than in the past. More businesses feature different areas to explore, touch, and learn alone or with others, should you wish.

Snacks are everywhere. I often feel like Gulliver surrounded by tiny cookies, mini cheese bits, ultra-small Kinder egg bars and Celebrations. There are tons of booths with coffee bars, which is super nice. There are also lounge areas growing. We also see four companies purchasing group stands.

There are also many booths from different regions around the world. Country pavilions are increasingly prevalent. However, apart from some flag icons there is really nothing cohesive or fun about these pavilions. There are also no very special events organized by those countries, which would be easy and fun. Korean barbecue, anyone?

The card scanning workflow still doesn’t work well. Most people don’t seem to have an organized and efficient way to capture visitor information quickly and digitally. I’ve filled out forms…with my name on it…on paper. Paper feels nice by the way. If you need a free pen, say no more. Formnext is your place.

This time I’ve heard several people actively complain that there are no 3D printed giveaways to bring to children and such. If your technology is a scalable, efficient, manufacturing solution then maybe show us that you can make 2,000 of something to give away.

Visitors

There are some individual students, as well as organized groups of students. However, most everyone is industry now. There are fewer new people, including those new to 3D printing. However, there are more attendees who are on the cusp of investing. Bucking the trend, there seem to be a lot of visitors shopping for stuff.

There are many more attendees from Asia, along with people from all over the world. Visitors are predominantly European and, of that, there are more Germans than anyone else. The conversations are mature. This is a unique show because there will be an engineer here, but also their CEO flew in from Japan. Altogether, the show is very meeting-driven. There are more suits and more attendees dressing nicely.

Interaction

Talk is lively and everyone is still very open. Discussions can sometimes be technical. The knowledge level has generally increased. I haven’t seen any “booth babes” yet or encountered anyone who was completely clueless.

People speak English more as well. Most interactions are tire kicking and curiosity. Some companies are completely withdrawn and do not reach out to speak to attendees. Most visitors don’t seem to have a plan beyond getting a card or scan. Consider the possibility of a QR code to book a demo automatically gets added to your calendar. Lead generation and capture are still subpar.

The presentations are still a bit sad because there is always noise around and the seats are never filled. Most people at stands jump into a standard spiel without asking you anything before. As a result, they don’t know your level of knowledge, need, pain or why you’re interested. Yesterday, someone tried to explain to me how binder jetting worked and another went into depth about what PEEK is. It would also seem to be silly from the company’s point of view to do this. Just begin with, ¨So, what brings you to our stand today?¨ or ¨what does your company make?¨ or something along those lines. This will lead to more varied and qualified conversations that are more fun and useful to both parties. You can always find a way to give value to someone. And if someone is just curious about your booth, then just quickly tell them the highlights and takeaways.

I’m also still surprised that, on the one hand, so many people will try to sell you a $1 million granulate printer, while others disdainfully dismiss you because they’re too young or dressed informally. There’s a happy medium here related to being curious and learning about the other. Then you can tailor your brief pitch to them and ask questions about there needs. This will let you learn more, rather than push you go into the same story for the 200th time.

Trends

Software. On the whole, we see a lot more software taking a more prominent role. Software is seen as a money earner. More companies are writing their own slicers, offering their own management software, partnering with software firms or finding out how their products fit in a broader software landscape.

AI. AI is everywhere. Most often its crap, a magic word meant to raise your multiple or make a product less boring. But, there is substantive work going on with some of the deeper challenges in AM.

Post-processing. Post-processing is becoming more important still. Companies also seem to be investing in it. We can see many more visitors at post-processing stands, which are much larger and feature many more employees. This is very good for the industry.

Best Startup

I loved 1000Kelvin. The team is interesting and experienced. The proposition of getting it right the first time is enticing and this team is doing it with that magical AI sauce, but in this case it seems to be useful and real. By being able to predict and correct errors this Berlin based startup could make a big impact.

Most Important Company

UK-based AiBuild makes a reportedly very software for robotic arms. Used by a lot of the robotic arm 3D printer companies for polymer and WAAM/DED, AiBuild has become the largest independent company in producing this software. A long time ago, I noted that that the firm could be a Windows for robotic 3D printing, but the huge number of robot arm companies in the business now completely surprised me. Both polymer large format and metal large format are growing and AiBuild is the logical partner for this industry segment. With a partnership with Kuka and a lot of interest in AI and software generally, the startup is suddenly the key business on the showroom floor.

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