Formnext 2023 Day 1: Wheat Beer and Chaff

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I fall from the clouds. O, to be back in Frankfurt again. Each arrival presents a new fragment of the airport ceiling, dismantled and fenced off. Amidst the exposed sprinklers, speakers, ducts, and wiring, the airport’s innards lie bare, as if on display during an autopsy of a leviathan. For over ten years, the ceiling has undergone a ceaseless cycle of deconstruction and renewal. With each visit, it appears to hover in a state of stasis—new tiles are installed only to be replaced once more within a few years.

Imagine the Sisyphean daily grind for workers amidst the incessant flow of globetrotters, frantic families weaving towards distant gates, and tired businesspeople navigating the crowds, all while staying connected to distant loved ones. I foresee that by the time the airport renovation concludes, it will be time to start anew. This project has stretched over a decade—could this be Berlin, sans the edge?

How I wish to be engulfed by the ambiance of hipsters, history, and vibrant nightlife. In this locale, clubs are more synonymous with golf, and security measures, rather than vibrant social spots. A Kit Kat remains merely a treat, and lounging on the grass is an alien concept.

In Frankfurt, the taxi line chaos is a form of déjà vu, an unresolved quandary for over a decade. We then venture towards Europa Allee, an artery whose name belies its actuality—a windswept corridor of monotonous architecture reminiscent of Chinese industrial parks. Between my modest yet inexplicably expensive hotel and the superb Noodlemaker, a gaping chasm lies. It’s been there for years, reminiscent of a time when 3D Systems was a byword for innovation, when Will.i.am sightings were the talk of the town, before we recognized the pitfalls of SPACs and before smartwatches came of age.

Could this chasm be an ambitious tunnel to Waitangi, New Zealand, or merely a metaphorical mine, with taxpayers as the unwitting resource? Like Sisyphus, I return to my personal mountain and boulder repeatedly. Yet, in this contemplative state, much like Sisyphus, I find contentment.

The French have a way with words, encapsulating the essence of existence: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“—the more things change, the more they stay the same. We lament stagnation, bemoan the dearth of novelty, yet now, the shift feels tangible. For years, the illusion of progress was bolstered by startups and new machines, many merely echoes of one another, a cacophony devoid of substance. We reveled in the mere concept of excitement, akin to dogs, distracted by treats amidst the chaos of a family gathering, spinning without direction. Meanwhile, the axes of our printers stalled, failing to keep pace with our aspirations.

Now, the glow of the spotlight has dimmed. We brace for more challenging times, but there’s a sense of a fresh epoch on the horizon, one less about glitz and more about the tangible synergy of steel and polymer.

This year’s Formnext carries a weight of solemnity, a pronounced seriousness. The presence of professionals now without employment casts a shadow, tempering the usual light-hearted spirit. Some companies stake their futures on this event, credit lines stretched thin in a last-ditch effort to rally the marketing troops. Cashflow concerns haunt many, leaving them teetering on the brink. Yet, amidst this, investment pours in from the defense sector, with additive manufacturing playing a pivotal role in enhancing hypersonic technology, missiles, and rockets, contributing to Ukraine’s defense. The medical sector burgeons with new additive applications. The industry buzz may have quieted, but the impact of our work has not—significant endeavors continue.

Once, the world’s largest service bureaus boasted about forty machines. Now, we see numerous companies operating over thirty metal machines, targeting specialized markets like new space and defense. Firms that gambled on additive technology are now reaping the rewards, even as the fair-weather observers have departed, leaving the domain to the dedicated.

Exhibition stands mirror this new pragmatism, with some companies like Nexa and Additive Industries commanding significant presence, while others have scaled back. The casual observers, the ‘tire kickers,’ have vanished, replaced by attendees with a vested, focused interest in additive realms. Conversations delve deeper, beyond surface-level pleasantries, resulting in a notable increase in potential leads. The fanfare may have lessened, yet the rhythm of meaningful connection has intensified.

Alliances form as companies align, carving out their niches, and significant clients are now orchestrating their supply chains. Looking back, Formnext 2023 will likely be seen as a watershed moment—not for the headlines it made, but for the pivotal discussions held within the confines of those executive spaces, the Vice Presidential Cupboards, the C-Level storage nooks. A titanic shift is underway, daunting yet invigorating, as we gear up to redefine the manufacturing industry.

Most Interesting 3D Printing Application: The Conflux Cartridge – 11.1 E45

The Conflux Cartridge heat exchanger is a prime example of additive manufacturing’s aptitude for enhancing thermal management solutions. Heat exchangers are particularly suited to this technology, which allows for design optimization to achieve better pressure drop, tailor to specific form factors, reduce weight, and fine-tune performance characteristics.

Previously, Conflux specialized in highly customized heat exchangers, but their latest offering is a game-changer: a high-performance, relatively easy-to-configure model. This heat exchanger isn’t just a concept—it’s in active use, albeit on a modest scale. Crafted from AlSi10mg, its aesthetic is not just about looking like a quintessential 3D printed object. Instead, it impresses with the sheer precision and definition of its fine structures.

What’s particularly thrilling is that this heat exchanger is designed as a drop-in replacement. This is a significant development because it removes barriers to adoption for the vendor, their suppliers, and ultimately the end-users. There’s no need for investment in new additive equipment or training in Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM); customers can simply purchase and install the part.

This component isn’t just another piece of hardware—it’s a representation of what the future holds. Its elegance and functionality resonate with me profoundly, embodying the progress and potential of our industry.

Most Revolutionary Machine at Formnext 2023: Quantica NovoJet OPEN Hall 11.1 D39

image courtesy quantica

Quantica has unveiled a pioneering inkjet technology, the NovoJet OPEN, marking a significant stride in 3D printing. This machine, equipped to handle up to seven cartridges, stands out with its ability to work with high-viscosity, open materials. The potential applications of such a versatile printer span an impressive range, touching sectors from medical to manufacturing, and extending into electronics.

The NovoJet OPEN is crafted with a specific purpose: to catalyze exploration and research. This strategic focus is essential for venturing into uncharted territories of possibility. Quantica, in developing this entirely new class of inkjet technology, has embarked on a challenging journey. Nonetheless, it’s a path that holds the promise of transformative advancements for the entire 3D printing industry.

Most Revolutionary Metal Material at Formnext: AMNovis CuperNova Hall 11.1 D67

Amnovis has established itself as a contract manufacturer with a focus on medical devices, yet its recent foray into copper remains somewhat enigmatic. However, the service they’re offering is clear: if you supply them with your copper powder—up to five metric tonnes—they will enhance its properties. In return for a fee, they’ll return the improved powder, ready for you to use in your powder bed fusion systems. The promise is that you can continue to use your existing lasers, but now with a copper powder that flows more easily and enables faster printing speeds. This isn’t just an impressive feat; it’s akin to alchemy made real, with the potential to significantly streamline copper printing—a development that could be immensely beneficial for the industry.

Looking ahead, there’s a palpable sense of optimism that we’re at the precipice of a new era. Beyond the allure of past hype, the industry is poised to roll up its sleeves—getting dirt under its nails and grease on its pants—to evolve into a technology that boasts both high volume and high profitability. Embracing this spirit, Formnext becomes more than just a trade fair; it’s a community gathering where every handshake, every exchange, and especially every hug counts. In light of the challenging times, those extra good hugs carry even more weight, reminding us to cherish the present because the future holds no guarantees.

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