3D Printing

3D Printing Enthusiasm — A Day at The TCT Show

What a day!

Grab a coffee if you want to read this – I can’t keep it short!

The TCT Show + Personalize took place at the NEC in Birmingham UK over the last couple of days. I was gutted to only be able to make it to Day 1 on Wednesday, but, with time being my biggest enemy at the moment, and for the first year ever, not having any responsibility at the show, different priorities meant that was how it had to be. I made the most of it though. Got there early, left fairly late and squeezed in as many meetings as humanly possible.

While there is little to be done to hide the scale and cold lack of “personality” of the vast convention centre that is the NEC, the organisers, had once again done their best in this regard, with notable upgrades on previous events, including a dedicated conference arena, curtained off from the show floor to minimize noise, to anyone but those at the very back, it was a great success. I spent most of the morning in there.

Duncan Wood, COO for Rapid News Communications Group (RNCG) kicked the whole thing off, and used the platform to introduce the audience — physical and virtual (the first session each day was also live streamed via the TCT Show website) — to some new events RNCG is launching. This includes TCT Asia in November 2014, and RNC’s partnership with CES (both in London and the States) where TCT will be organizing a 3D printing conference. With a nod to the tremendous growth the 3D printing industry has seen over the last couple of years he went on to introduce the first of three CEO keynote presentations for the morning. Anyone looking at the programme will see that TCT has brought in the great and the good from 3D printing land. And so of course day 1, session 1, presentation 1 kicked off with Avi Reichental. The inimitable CEO of 3D Systems was on top form and obviously in his element talking about the ‘Future of 3D Printing.’ I am struggling to cherry pick some key points from the copious notes I took.

Avi’s look to the future, started with a nod to the past. And a nice nod it was too — there was mention of the 30 year anniversary of Chuck Hull’s first stereolithography part off his very first apparatus and Avi also put up a slide showing headshots of the most influential people in 3D printing in the last 25 years, and this included users and competitors. A really nice touch I thought. He used this slide to show the brightest minds from which our industry has benefited so far and to launch in to how we develop the brightest minds of the future ….

Alice Taylor MakieLab Avi Reichental 3D Systems

As Mike highlighted from listening to Avi and talking with him in San Jose, education is central to what 3D Systems are doing now and what they will do in the future — Avi thinks this should be industry wide. And at TCT, Avi & 3D Systems put the company’s money where his mouth is — they had co-sponsored the Bright-Minds programme with Black Country Atelier, which included a class room of 3D printing ecosystem equipment. It was gratifying to see it in use, with much enthusiasm by a range of kids. But the many kids that were there were not holed up the entire day, it was also great to see them across the show floor, fiddling with equipment and parts, whispering behind their hands to each other and asking questions.

The other two CEO keynotes were delivered by Conor MacCormack of Mcor, the vendor of the Matrix and the Iris paper & full colour 3D printing platforms, whose passion for the industry is matched only by his innovative vision; and Alice Taylor, CEO of MakieLab., the rather brilliant and original woman that is pioneering what is, in my opinion, the best 3D printing related business model the world has yet seen and, even better, it is centred around toys — the quite wonderful Makies.

You know, one of the things that I love so much about the industry I work in, is the number of genuinely magnificent and yet down-to-earth people that I meet. These are people that I could happily spend days with individually discussing, sometimes debating and learning more about 3D printing and their involvement and personal experiences with it. Truly inspirational human beings — on levels above and beyond 3D printing. And that is the wonderful opportunity that events like TCT afford, albeit constrained by time.

As you may have guessed the guys mentioned above fall into that category for me, as well as Conor’s wife Deirdre and definitely their Marketing Director, Ms Julie Reece. Others I see like that include Todd Grimm and Richard Horne who were both presenting in the second conference session, one dedicated to “Myth-busting.” Both of them were on fire, even while battling nerves beforehand. For Todd, who is so very passionate about this technology sector, and has been from the very earliest days, his primary remit for this presentation was to convey ‘enthusiastic realism.’ He did a stellar job. He also pointed to the many, many developments in the 3D printing technologies in just the last year, identifying — and distinguishing between — the incremental developments and the truly innovative developments that have occurred. While both of these are valuable, and indeed essential, to the growth of the industry the distinction is important in terms of managing expectations. In this vein, he also brilliantly highlighted the amazing applications of 3D printing, providing perspective in terms of the years of R&D that have gone before.

Indeed, the history of the 3D printing industry emerged as a theme at the show, and its importance in getting us to where we are today: something often overlooked or sometimes even rewritten with a focus only on the last few years when the technologies became more visible to a wider audience. While I don’t go back as far as some of the “dinosaurs” (that’s what they call themselves, and they quite like it!), I’ve put in almost 18 years and have witnessed much of the toil and the pain involved in the sector as it developed and made the technology and applications of today possible. The history IS important, noone should be in any doubt of that. Two people fully in agreement with this are two other long-standing and extremely knowledgeable individuals — Graham Tromans and Andy Allshorn. Graham’s commitment to the industry (and TCT) is indisputable as he hosted seven seminar sessions across the two-day show. Love them both.

Richard Horne RichRapRichard Horne (aka @RichRap3D) gave a presentation entitled “3D printing for business and pleasure” and it was a joy. And that is testament to the man himself, one who is, quite simply, a beacon in the world of 3D printing and the world in general. He fulfills his day job, which does involve some 3D printing and this stirred his personal passion for it. His commitment to the RepRap community and what it stands for is phenomenal and he still enjoys 3D printing as a hobby — building 3D printers, developing his own 3D printer, and printing on them, usually with his children (yep, on top of all that, he is a top dad!).  Rich’s genuine willingness to help the many, many people that ask for his time in aiding their own 3D printing endeavours was in full evidence at the show, and can also be witnessed across the RepRap forums, as well as his own blog. Got to just tell you about the funniest moment by far on Wednesday. As I was chatting to Rich, yet another new RepRap community member, in his 60’s I’d guess, had identified him and was desperate to talk to him. I bowed out, but not before crumpling in a heap of giggles as the gentleman in question opened with: “Oh, I’m so delighted to find you — I am particularly interested in your hot end.” Childish I know. Rich struggled but just managed to keep his composure. Again, another mark of the man. One that I was not able to match!

RepRap HubRich and I were talking just outside the RepRap hub, which was by far the busiest section of the show all day. It was constantly inundated with visitors and the many committed RepRappers manning the hub were so very patient and accommodating. It meant that I couldn’t get as much face time as I would have liked but I did get the opportunity to talk with Andrew & Claire of Faberdashery. Again, people I could happily spend days with, if time allowed. They are doing great things, building on their excellent reputation as material suppliers. Their well-deserved success has seen them expand with a new studio space in London, as well as their facilities in Somerset. When time allows, I will be heading down there to find out more and interview them properly.

I got a snatched conversation with Sally Bowyer on the RepRapPro stand, her dad, as is typical, was surrounded by hoards of people. But I did get a wave and a smile! It was lovely to finally meet Yvonne van Zummeren in person and catch up with Mark Bloomfield — both were retailing their 3D printed jewellery collections, and justifiably, had tons of interest. Yvonne was talking on day 2 of the event — absolutely gutted to miss that, along with Scott Crump, Joshua Harker and Andy Jeffrey.

Also very miffed to miss the reality checks given by Joris Peels and Jeremey Pullin during day two of the conference. But I did catch up with both of them in person while I was there. Both brilliant! Both candid! Both excellent advocates of 3D printing and where we are now. I doubt either of them held back. Well, I’ll certainly be checking all of the above out soon — I’ve had confirmation from the organisers that all of the presentations will be posted online after the show.

Ultimaker 2 3D PrinterOn the 3D printing vendor front, all the big boys were there and a few from the entry level category of machines, but there were some notable missing names — FormLabs and LeapFrog to name a couple. The most notable thing though was that noone was really showing anything new — with the exception of  Ultimaker who had the 2 there. Again, the Ultimaker stand was inundated, managed a snap and will refer you back to Moheeb’s post from the NY launch last week for more info.

Makerbot and MBot 3D also had very busy stands. Awkward.

The now white BluePrinter had a presence too, via reseller John Burn, along with the ExOne and EnvisionTEC platforms. EnvisionTEC also had a large independent stand, and it was great to catch up with Martin Forth. I know things are in the pipeline there, but not in a position to say more.

Similarly with Stratasys. I know things are coming, having spoken at length with Andy Middleton, but most of it was off the record. What I can say is that the Stratasys / Objet merger is paying off, it was more painful than was admitted at the time and there are still wrinkles being ironed out but operations are now working well across the globe, he reported. The Makerbot acquisition is a little further behind, but Andy was leaving me to go and meet Jenny Lawton and that does seem to be going well. Also the Objet colours/multiple materials (with a third material option) is in Beta, at three sites in Germany, one in the UK and one in the US.

When I stopped by the ES Technology stand to see what was happening with Concept Laser, I couldn’t get close — there was an in-depth discussion going on with what looked like a Rolls-Royce delegation.

Voxeljet is evidently going from strength to strength — the company’s successful combination of machine sales and service is bringing forth a host of original applications but there was lots of interest at the show, more on that another day, this epistle is already longer than it should be.

I also spent some time catching up with Stuart Jackson of EOS, most of it, I’m afraid, was off the record, applications that don’t have approval for publication yet and some corporate stuff, you get the picture. But generally I came away with the sense that EOS is doing fine, and the German engineering angle is a significant factor in that. As and when the nitty gritty comes on line, I promise I will share.

Similarly with Lars Ryberg of Arcam, he trusted me with some off the record insight, which I wholly respect. Like EOS, things are going well, but these European companies are not so keen to shout about it. These two companies, IMO, have the two outstanding metal AM processes, and they know it, their priority is, quite simply, their clients and not marketing. Frustrating for someone like me, but I get it. And I respect it too.

And so, to the most unexpected and interesting conversation of the day — after meeting up with Rick (Pirroni) earlier in the day, we reconvened for coffee and were just chittering (as my Irish friend would say), at which point he dropped his bombshell. “You know, you should probably talk to these guys,” as he flashed a business card before me. Me: “Yeah, why’s that then?” Rick: “Because they’re reselling for botObjects.”

Creat3DI sedately (not!) made my way to the stand of TOR Logistics / Creat3D (also resellers of 3DS’ CubeX and the SwissPen) with Rick, chuckling, by my side to find out more. Quite by chance I arrived at the stand to find Mr Kevin Quigley (we’re both in the “#blockedbythebotclub”) already chatting with Simon Chandler. I couldn’t contain myself and started asking questions about the who, when, why? Simon Chandler fielded my questions well, despite being caught off guard, and the questions were coming thick and fast from the three of us.

Essentially though, what it comes down to, is that Creat3D doesn’t really know any more than we do. Creat3D is taking pre-orders for the ProDesk3D, they are using botObjects marketing language, they haven’t got their hands on one yet, although they are expecting one in the next few weeks and are looking forward to it by all accounts, “to see what it can do.” They are not dealing directly with botObjects but a distributor — Xerika. Simon wouldn’t be drawn on offering an opinion regarding the company and seemed to be reserving judgment on the printer and full colour claims until they have one. One thing that did draw an intake of breath from us was the price — Creat3D are retailing the ProDesk3D for £3600 +VAT! For context, that’s Over £1000 more than the CubeX Trio, and £2000 more than a Makerbot Replicator 2.

So there we have it — my round up.

You’ve probably noticed the focus is on lots of interaction. This year, that was exactly what it was all about. There was enthusiasm and interest and there was likely a lot of business done. But there was no new technology.