Join the 3D Printing Family with AMUG President Mark Abshire

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From March 19 to 23, 2023, the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Conference descends on Chicago once again. The AMUG Conference is a great event that is quite different from every other trade show in 3D printing. We interviewed current AMUG President Mark Abshire to find out more.

Mark’s Early Days of 3D Printing

With an astounding career in the additive manufacturing (AM) that dates back to 1991, Mark worked as Rapid Prototyping Manager at Texas Instruments before becoming an early Application Engineer at 3D Systems. He was also involved in Sony’s quixotic, short-lived attempt at launching its own stereolithography machines. Oh my, how the world would have been different had that project not ended way too early. Mark went on to work on the materials side as an Application Development Engineer at DSM before working at Computer Aided Technology.

All of this experience in the earliest days of the industry gave Mark the opportunity to be a part of 3D printing community now known as AMUG. Mark has been attending AMUG since the 1990’s, serving as President in the past and fulfilling many other roles at the nonprofit.

Mark with a fan.

AMUG Is Just Different

Now that he’s retired, Mark can focus all of his energy on AMUG. I asked Mark what makes AMUG different from other events in additive.

¨People think of all these events as trade shows, but we’re an educational conference run by a nonprofit. Yes, we have sponsors who get exposure, but the main focus is on networking with other users—not walking around booths and interacting with sponsors,” Mark said.

At AMUG, the camaraderie is palpable and, it turns out, the ability to connect at the event is deliberate. Mark continued:

“We actually gently force people to network together. We have a network lunch, and you have to pull a number out of fishbowl. Then, at lunch, you’ll be seated with seven people you don’t know. We do this so people can say, ‘I met you at AMUG. We have the same machine. I have a problem… and maybe you have the solution.’ Or maybe you want to invest in a machine. You can come talk to the OEMs at AMUG. You can ask them what’s new, different, or just happening more generally. But you can also talk to people who have that machine already. You can reach out to them after and ask, ‘Give me your best day and your worst day with that machine.’  AMUG is where users help users.”

Also deliberate is the fact that the AMUG agenda is so jam-packed that attendees don’t have time to duck out and see the sights without the benefit of the AMUG crew itself. This, too, generates a sense of shared experience among the group.

“We pack you full with things to do,” Mark said. “Meals and social activities, too. Its a full four-day event. The last day, for example, is filled with workshops, which are very useful. The Expo (of sponsors) is open in the evening. There’s a buffet. Then, there’s an offsite activity we all go to.”

The offsite activity is always secret, so I tried to pry what I could from Mark. He didn’t budge, revealing that even he doesn’t know where the bus excursion is going to this year because he can not keep a secret. AMUG is almost like a deep immersion induction into additive: You will forge bonds. You will meet people. You will connect. It’s certainly immersive and powerful.

Mark and his identical twin together with Tom Sorovetz.

Workshops, Competitions, and More

The workshops on the final day are one of the most unique features of an already one-of-a-kind event. Mark has been to a number of these and has gotten a great deal of value out of them for himself.

¨The hands-on workshops are a real reason to stay to the last day. They’re all application-based,” Mark told me. “For example, maybe you’ve never made a metal part. We’re going to show you how to make a casting. You’re going to be pouring metal literally. You’re going to break it apart, feel a 3D printed shell or pattern. You´re going to see that whole process. Now, you have that information in your toolbox. Maybe you never need to do a casting, but you now know what silicone molding is. You understand [room temperature vulcanization (RTV) molding]. When this technology does come up, you know enough to get started. Or you know who to turn to so you can find out more.¨

Trade shows are usually big and full of directed activity. You visit a variety of vendors you’re interested in. In the case of AMUG, however, you may get exposed to something completely random—something you weren’t looking for. Some of these new developments may come from the AMUG Technical Competition, which you can still enter, as long as it’s before the March 8. There are three different events within the competition: the best application, the best part finishing, and members’ choice. All events are judged by AMUG members.

“AMUG helps you get the full potential out of AM. You see machines, applications, and technology that you don’t know. The event is for users of AM equipment. It’s for users to share experiences. We’re true to the original organization that started in 1988 with a handful of people. They got together around a brand new technology, all operators. This user group for a single 3D printing technology added more and this knowledge sharing by users for uses grew. The event is most valuable if you’re a designer, engineer, operator, or operations manager. It helps them get the most out of the equipment that they’ve invested in.¨ 

AMUG has different tracks for a variety disciplines and Mark reveals that, this year due to growth, the event will have 40 percent new attendees. Mark assures me that there will be plenty of interaction, knowledge, and sharing for new and old users alike—whether you’re an AM veteran or just entering the space.

Mark has only missed three AMUG events since 1991. Now, he’s seeing members whose parents were AMUG members— daughters taking the baton from 3D printing pioneer fathers. The AMUG family is a big one and only growing. If you’re not already a family member, do yourself a huge favor and go to AMUG. You’ll learn so much!

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