By Terry Wohlers, Wohlers Associates
What is it about an event that is so enticing to many of us? We board planes and travel great distances to attend them, while spending significant time and money. Is it our appetite for personal interaction that some of us crave at a time when email, YouTube, and Twitter are front and center in our lives?
In the nearly 30 years of attending industry events, I have witnessed a lot of change. I recall attending very average conference sessions, several running in parallel, with 500 people in the room. This was at a time when you had to physically go somewhere to get new information. It would not come to you as it does today. When the Internet and teleconferencing developed, and budgets tightened, event organizers saw a decline in attendance and many events disappeared.
I believe the current supply and demand for design and manufacturing events have balanced in recent years. Due to competitive issues and other factors, we’ll continually see them come and go, but the number that’s currently being offered, at least in the additive manufacturing (AM) industry, seems to be about right. Some might argue that there are too many, but having a wide selection from industry and academia in many geographic regions is good, in my opinion.
People new to the AM industry and interested in learning more about it will sometimes ask, “Which is the best industry event on the subject to attend?” This question can be difficult to answer because of the number of them, with each offering something special. If they are seeking a mature conference program in the U.S. and can attend only one, I usually recommend the Society of Manufacturing Engineer’s RAPID event. It arguably offers the richest set of presentations and speakers. I may be a little biased since I’ve been a part of the event since the beginning and have accepted a role in all 19 annual conferences. In fact, my 25th wedding anniversary conflicted with the one five years ago and my 30th anniversary conflicted with the one in May 2011. I managed to attend both, but I’m still making it up to my wife. The 20th annual RAPID event will take place May 22-25, 2012 in Atlanta.
If a large, international exposition is of interest, I usually recommend EuroMold, which is held annually in Frankfurt, Germany near the end of November or beginning of December. It usually includes all of the major AM systems manufacturers, including those in Europe, as well as a many service and material providers from around the world. More than 1,500 exhibitors from 40 countries and 60,000 visitors from 90 countries are expected at EuroMold 2011, which is November 29 through December 2.
With my EuroMold recommendation, some bias may be showing through due to my affiliation with the event. I’ve had the privilege of organizing a one-day international conference at EuroMold for the past 12 years. The 13th annual conference will focus on design innovation from additive manufacturing and will be held on Thursday, December 1.
The “EuroMold” name suggests that the exposition is mostly about molds. However, this is not at all the case. The event brings together an impressive range of products and services used for design, prototyping, and series production. In recent years, EuroMold has become one of the most important meeting places for those interested in additive manufacturing and 3D printing. Seventy-eight AM-related companies had confirmed their participation as an exhibitor at EuroMold 2011 as of September 2011. Among them are Alphacam, Concept Laser, EOS, FIT, Huntsman, Materialise, MTT Technologies, Objet Geometries, Realizer, SLM Solutions, Stratasys, 3D Systems, and Z Corp.
SolidWorks World. For me, the year of industry events begins with SolidWorks World. It usually occurs in late January or February. The next one is scheduled for February 12-15, 2012 in San Diego. As the name suggests, the conference and exhibits are mostly about SolidWorks and related products and services. In recent years, the show has included many exhibitors that offer additive manufacturing products and services. This event is a good opportunity to become fully immersed in CAD solid modeling technology, while meeting with management from SolidWorks Corp., CAD analysts, and a number of people from AM companies. That’s why I like to attend.
NZ Rapid Product Development Conference. This event was launched in February 2011 in Auckland, New Zealand. The current plan is to hold the conference every other year, so the next one will be in February 2013. Auckland University of Technology is the organizer of this mostly academic event. The first one was well organized, thanks to professor Diegel of AUT. I’m hoping to attend it again.
amerimold. This event has been held twice, the most recent being in April 2011 in Rosement, IL, near Chicago. My schedule prevented me from attending it, but Tim Caffrey of Wohlers Associates attended and presented on our company’s behalf. Amerimold 2012 is scheduled for June 13-14 in Novi, MI.
Additive Manufacturing Forum. This event is organized by and held at the impressive Southeastern Institute of Manufacturing and Technology in Florence, SC. I had the opportunity of attending the first one in February 2010 and the second in April 2011. Plans are under way for a third annual event, but details are not yet available, so stay tuned. If you live in the area or can easily get to South Carolina, I recommend putting it on your list of conferences to attend. Ed Fries, founder and CEO of FigurePrints and former Microsoft executive, was the keynote speaker at the most recent conference.
Pacific Additive Manufacturing Forum. The most recent PAMF event was held in June 2011 in Melbourne, Australia. Smaller versions of the conference were held in Adelaide, Sydney, and Brisbane, also in June. The 2011 series were organized by RMIT University after a successful launch of a four-city “Factory of the Future” series in June 2010, with nearly 600 attendees. The most recent forum in Melbourne coincided with the opening of the impressive Advanced Manufacturing Precinct. This $15 million facility is equipped with some of the finest CAD/CAE, additive manufacturing, and CNC equipment that money can buy. More than 3,000 square meters (32,292 square feet) of space is spread across four floors in this beautifully renovated building. Plans are under way for the next PAMF event, although a date has not yet been set.
DMS. The Design & Manufacturing Solutions Expo is Japan’s largest CAD/CAE and manufacturing event. It is held each June at Tokyo Big Sight and offers the largest concentration of additive manufacturing products and services. With the decline in AM system development and commercialization in Japan, I have not attended this event since 2007. A symposium on AM that originated in the 1990s is offered the same week as DMS and organized separately by the Japanese AM association.
RapidTech. This week-long event is usually held in early August each year in Orange County, California. It is organized by the National Center for Rapid Technologies (RapidTech), an NSF-supported program housed at the University of California – Irvine. The conference provides information and hands-on learning for instructors and administrators from community colleges, as well as universities and high schools. I enjoy interacting with the instructors, many of which got their start at this event and now have years of experience in teaching AM. RapidTech 2011 included many new faces, which is exactly what is needed to expand AM education and training across the U.S.
Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium. This conference would receive the award for being the longest-running event focused on AM. It is organized and held at the University of Texas at Austin each summer. The 22nd annual symposium was held in August 2011 and featured results from some of the finest academic research in the U.S. and abroad. Professors Dave Bourell and Joe Beaman, and others at UT (pioneers of laser sintering technology), do an excellent job with this event year after year. I wish I could attend every year.
Additive Manufacturing International Conference. To some, this event is better known as the “Loughborough conference,” which is held annually in July at Loughborough University in the UK. It features a line-up of speakers that you normally would not see at other AM conferences. I attended for the first time in July 2011 and was glad I did. The mid-year bi-annual meeting of the ASTM International Committee F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies coincided with this conference in 2010 and 2011. The ASTM meeting is expected to be held there again in 2012.
International Conference on Additive Technologies. This is better known as iCAT to many. It is held every other year in Slovenia, with the most recent in September 2010. iCAT 2012 will be in September in Maribor, which is Slovenia’s second largest city. With Slovenia being small and remote, I was surprised to find the topics and discussions at this conference to be among the most interesting and advanced of any event worldwide. The organization of the conference has been excellent, thanks to the attention to detail by Dr. Igor Drstvensek of the University of Maribor.
TCT Live. This industrially-focused conference and exposition is held in the UK. The most recent event was held in September 2011 at the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham, England. While the Loughborough conference caters to those in academia, TCT Live brings topics of discussion to the needs of industrialists. It has been well attended in recent years and many of the major AM system manufacturers, and many UK service providers, are a part of the exposition. As a bonus, the event is co-located with Micro Maching (MM) Live, Nano Live, and MEMS Live.
VRAP. The International Conference on Advanced Research in Virtual and Rapid Prototyping has ran every other year since 2003. It is typically held in September or October and has been held in Leiria, Portugal. The four-day event could win an award for the most presentations given at AM conference. Also, the quality of many of the presentations and papers is quite high. The focus is mostly on academic research, but professor Paulo Bartolo of Polytechnic Institute of Leiria has done a fine job at mixing in some industrial presentations. The next conference will be in 2013.
RAPDASA. One of the final AM events of the year for me is organized by the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa. The November conference has been held in many cities across South Africa with a mix of international guests. RAPDASA 2011 marks the 12th annual conference and I’ve been lucky enough to attend all of them. In recent years, the conference program has offered a good balance of speakers from industry, academia, and government. For outsiders and South Africans alike, it provides an interesting view of product development and manufacturing in region met with many challenges and opportunities.
As additive manufacturing has developed and advanced, so has the range of industry and academic conferences and expositions. There’s an event for everyone, but knowing which one(s) to attend can be a challenge if you’re new to the industry or have not had the opportunity to research the options. I hope that this summary provides some guidance. As an additional resource, a list of events that I attend is maintained at the Wohlers Associates site.