3D Printing

A Round Up of 3D Printing & Additive Manufacturing Developments at the TCTLive Conference

The TCT Live 2012 Conference on Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing turned out to be a milestone for me as it was the last one that I will be involved with organizing — after 16 years there were some very mixed emotions coursing around on Wednesday night.

This year’s conference, I am pleased to report, was an outright success  with a wide range of quality speakers covering the latest and greatest developments and applications in Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing. The notable Keynote addresses that set the scene at the start of each day of the event were brilliant, delivered as they were by industry veterans Todd Grimm and Phill Dickens.

Todd’s realistic take on the state-of-play in 2012 was a must see, and was standing room only as the conference got underway on Tuesday morning. (A huge sigh of relief from me at that point). The style and delivery of Todd’s much-respected views ensured that no one was left in any doubt that 3D printing is here and here to stay, that it is doing great things now in an ever increasing number of places, BUT, it is not everything that the vendors or the media claim that it is — yet! The most important point Todd made, and I fully concur with this, and told him so, is that 3D printing is not even close to being a consumer tool. Todd’s point was that in terms of consumer uptake of 3D printers, we are still very much at the top of Gartner’s hype cycle, with a huge downturn to overcome before uptake and adoption levels out at a realistic rate. However, in terms of prototyping, and some manufacturing applications — if designers and engineers are not using 3D printing technology within the product development cycle, they are lagging behind.

Todd’s keynote on day one was followed by some of the most inspiring applications of 3D printing across a spectacular range of industry sectors, including Paul Doe of Prodrive, who illustrated some key developments of the Mini world rally car enabled by additive tech.  Andrew Dawood, a renowned dentist, shared his very real passion for 3D printing and how it has shaped his dental practice and subsequently had a significant impact on other business ventures in the 3D printing world. The first morning session also saw Sean Horning of Burton Snowboards and Xavier de Kestelier of Foster + Partners share insights into how 3D printing is having a dramatic results in their respective industries.

The afternoon of day one was fully dedicated to jewellery and the creative industries. It was an extremely well attended session, demonstrating once again the huge affiliation between this sector and 3D printing. For me, the most exciting ongoing developments are 3D printing with gold, as demonstrated by Lena Thorsson of Cookson Precious Metals and Joerg Fischer-Buehner of Legor. The applications with gold that are coming out are simply stunning and, as expected, so well received and in my opinion this is only going to increase exponentially as capabilities get better and R&D continues. I did get a little more insight and do plan on expanding on this further in a future article.

But it is not just about gold. Mark Bloomfield and Silvia Weidenbach are two notable jewellers, based in London, with an intrinsic passion for 3D printing customized and unusual jewellery pieces using different materials. They were well received at the podium and inundated with enquiries at their stands within the Personalize Pavilion at the exhibition. To me this is key — consumers are drawn to special products and 3D printing, in the right hands, enables some VERY special products.

The keynote for day two of the conference was delivered by Professor Phill Dickens, who is a person I respect greatly in this industry and I have learned a great deal from him in my time for which I am grateful. Among many great slides in his 2012 presentation, which covered the past, present and future there was one that stood out for me and will for evermore. It was one simple statement concerning 3D printing and purchasing thereof. It read thus: “Unlock your brain before you unlock your wallet.” Now I know many that will agree with this statement full stop – but for me it goes further than the economics, it is about unlocking all the preceding and proceeding steps required for 3D printing and they all require know-how and brain power. It’s a powerful statement and one that needs due consideration.

Moving on, although I get a little excited about gold (as above), another material group that is undergoing serious development work with 3D printing is ceramics, as the conference audience was ably informed by Stephen Hoskins, of the Centre for Fine Print Research. Stephen’s presentation opened up the scope of work that he and his team are undertaking in this area and, similar to the gold affect, there was huge interest during and after his presentation that points to increasing numbers of applications in this area.

In the final conference session, with an emphasis on the medical sector, perhaps the stand-out presentation for me was delivered by Professor Russ Harris of Loughborough University. Russ has specialized in medical applications for many years but what was clarified for me with this presentation is what 3D printing can — and does — bring to individual lives. Making a huge difference and improving care for seriously injured patients where no other technology has yet been able to. This is staggering in its simplicity — but 3D printing changes peoples lives for the better. So even if no other applications existed, 3D printing would get my vote on this basis alone.

Dom Eggbeer of PDR rounded the session off with some vital insight into materials development and testing for medical applications — it can be arduous, but even coming just after Russ’s presentation, so worthwhile and absolutely necessary.

And that was it, the TCT Live 2012 conference came to a close for another year and I was left to say my goodbyes. Next year will be a whole new experience for me as I have never done TCT without stress before — looking forward to it!

I will follow this conference review with a round up of the exhibition and what’s going on with the major 3D printer / Additive Manufacturing system suppliers later. Definitely too much for one post and I don’t want to scare people off my first day on the job!