A First-Timer’s “Definitive” Guide to Surviving Formnext

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Believe it or not, this year was my very first time attending the additive manufacturing (AM) industry powerhouse event known as formnext, which has been held in Germany for eight years now. In 2021, there were 606 exhibitors, and this year there were 802, with nearly 51,150 square meters of exhibition space booked at Messe Frankfurt, and over 29,500 attendees from 96 nations. There were numerous world premieres of materials, software, and hardware, as well as plenty of partnership announcements. It was busy, exhausting and amazing.

To help future first-timers, and just to give you an idea of life on the floor, I’ve put together a “definitive” guide to Europe’s largest AM trade show, with definitive in quotes because I am only one person with my own opinions, and others may disagree. Plus, I am coming at this from a journalist’s perspective, so exhibitors and other visitors may need to keep different details in mind when attending.

Photos taken from the top of the Photocentric booth.

Arrive a day early.

formnext was held from Tuesday to Friday, and my original travel plan was to arrive in Frankfurt early Monday afternoon, so I’d have time to check in to my hotel and unpack at my leisure, walk the route to and from the event, and maybe walk around the city a little to help with jet lag. Then I would attend the Monday evening Wohler’s Report LIVE, and get to bed early so I’d be well-rested for opening day.

Sunrise at the Frankfurt Airport

This is not what ended up happening, unfortunately. My flight from Ohio to Chicago was first delayed, and then cancelled, and so I wasn’t able to fly out Sunday evening as I’d originally planned. Luckily, I was able to rebook and fly out Monday morning, but I didn’t land in Frankfurt until 7:30 am on Tuesday. I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel, checked in, unpacked, showered, scarfed down a protein bar, and was out the door again by 9:30 am. While I was sad to have missed my leisurely day of unpacking, walking, and resting, because I’d originally planned to arrive a day early, the only thing I ended up missing on the actual first day was HP’s booth opening party. Ah, the mimosas that could have been.

Pack less clothes and more snacks.

Did you catch my mention of a protein bar? I was very glad I ended up bringing several with me, as well as some hearty snacks. These are good for long days at the airport, late nights when there are no hotel vending machines or the restaurants are closed, breakfast on the go, and a quick pick-me-up on the show floor when you think you just can’t walk another step without sustenance.

As for the amount of clothing I brought, I wish I had taken out the dress I packed and about two shirts and left them at home. I had assumed there would be time to go back to my hotel room at the end of a day on the floor and change out of my sweaty clothes before heading out to dinners/happy hours/parties, and that everyone else at these events would be doing the same. I quickly learned this was not the case. Most people just stayed in their sweaty clothes for the evening events…or maybe they weren’t sweaty? I tend to be a very fast walker, so maybe I was worse than everyone else? Regardless, people aren’t there to be fashion plates, so it’s fine if you go to evening events in what you were wearing during the day.

Bring euros.

This was a tip I received from more than one person before I left for Germany, mainly because most of the taxis don’t take credit cards, and I was very glad I listened to this advice. On the way to dinner Tuesday night, I split a cab with a few other ladies and we forgot to ask the driver about this. When we arrived at our final destination, and he learned we didn’t have cash, he swore in frustration. I had thought I left my euros in the safe in my hotel room, and would be going back to get them before dinner (see previous paragraph), but when I dug through my laptop bag just to check, I realized that Morning Sarah had been very smart and brought some cash. Crisis averted!

Wear comfortable shoes.

Again, this was one piece of advice that I heard from multiple people ahead of time: wear comfortable shoes. Typically when I go to a trade show, I wear my trusty black ballet flats with Ortholite foam inserts. But from everything I was hearing, sturdier shoes would be required, and so I ditched the flats in favor of my Skechers, with new inserts. This was a Very Good Decision.

You can peep my cushy pink Skechers in the reflection of Inkbit’s Vista 3D printer.

I’ve also never seen so many 3D printed shoes (midsoles, rather) in my life, which was really awesome. Perhaps that will be an investment I make before the next trade show?

Have a plan…but leave room for wandering.

Before I go to a trade show, I always make a detailed spreadsheet of my scheduled interviews and press conferences, any presentations I want to see, and any companies I want to visit with whom I don’t already have a formal interview scheduled. Because this was my first time at formnext, I didn’t want to cram too much into my schedule, and so I purposefully left myself plenty of time to wander the four halls of the trade show and see what there was to see.

Leaving this time open was the best thing I could have done for myself. It allowed me to get a handle on where I would be going in the future, figure out where the restaurants and coffee shops were located, and just take everything in without running around like a crazy person…at least the entire time.

Find the maps.

Did you see where I just said that wandering helped me figure out where I was going? This was somewhat true, but the large maps at each entrance to the four halls and out in the common areas also helped. In addition to an overview of the area, I could also run through the companies in that particular hall alphabetically, and find out exactly where on the floor they were located.

I got into trouble with my last interview on the first day — I was absolutely positive that the company for which I was looking was in one of the four corners of my current hall, but I just could not find it. I was flummoxed, because I’d walked past it several times that day already, and I wasted about ten minutes walking up and down the aisles searching for the booth. I finally visited one of the maps and realized that I needed Hall 12.1, not Hall 12.0. I mostly blame this on sleep deprivation.

Don’t forget an adapter or charger.

Speaking of blaming things on lack of sleep, I forgot my adapter. And I don’t mean I left it at home, I mean I set it out on the desk in my hotel room that first morning and then completely forgot to toss it in my laptop bag. I had my charger with me, but no way to adapt it to European plugs at formnext. By mid-afternoon, my cell phone battery was dangerously low, and I really didn’t want to lose 30 minutes of precious time on the floor by walking 15 minutes to my hotel room and back to get it. I even headed to the quiet trade show oasis of the press center, and while they had plenty of snacks, beverages, and plugs for the journalists onsite, they did not have a spare adapter.

My last idea, and the one that ended up being my saving grace, was finding an American company at the show that might have the correct adapter. I’d like to extend my sincerest gratitude to the team at 6K for letting me use their adapter to charge my phone at their booth and temporarily use their counter as a workspace, and also for providing me with a much-needed cup of afternoon coffee. While I remembered both my charger and adapter on the second day, I’d also like to thank XJet for letting me recharge my devices at their booth that afternoon. I’ve lost count of who all to thank for keeping me caffeinated and hydrated.

Go the after-hours events.

My final tip is to enjoy yourself at the various happy hours and dinners and parties. At the end of the day on Wednesday, I found myself at the Velo3D booth, sipping a glass of red wine paired most elegantly with a Stratasys-branded pack of gummy bears I’d snagged earlier, before walking across the aisle for another glass and a delicious piece of cake at XJet’s booth. Then I headed to one of the onsite restaurants for the Women in 3D Printing happy hour, and after that, outside to a taxi, which deposited me at a nearby club for AMT’s hopping PostPro Fest.

AMT PostPro Fest swag

Not only are these events a great chance to network with a lot of people in a more casual setting (so long as the music isn’t too loud), but they’re also a fun way to unwind after a long day walking the floor at formnext.

Take a look at some more of my pictures from formnext 2022 below:

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