A Preview of the Nottingham International Conference on AM and 3D Printing

While Ari and Eetu jet off to Melbourne next week for the latest edition of the Inside 3D Printing event, I will be driving down to Nottingham. I have no particular affinity with the place, except that it is where one of my favourite annual 3D printing events is held. The International Conference on Additive Manufacturing (AM) and 3D Printing (3DP) has been on my calendar for years as, without fail, I always learn something new. This is the ninth annual edition under this guise (previously it was all about RP and RM).

This year will see the return of the in-depth two-day conference on the 8th and 9th July but with some additions pre- and post the main event. Monday 7th July will see the organizers host an Introduction to AM & 3DP in the form of a Master Class, while in the afternoon, delegates will have the opportunity to get an overview of research activities with AM and 3DP at UK Universities. One of the leading universities, is, undoubtedly, the hosts of this event — Nottingham. But it is far from the only academic institute with a world leading facility and gaining some insight into what is currently going on will be welcome. (I’ll report back).

After the main event there will also be a series of meetings geared around AM standards. On Wednesday 9th & Thursday 10th July the ASTM F42 International Standards Group meeting will take place, while on Thursday 10th & Friday 11th July the Belfry Hotel on the outskirts of Nottingham will host the ISO/TC 261 Standards Meeting. It’s clever scheduling — and likely welcome by members who can condense their calendars somewhat.

So back to the main event — which as ever, has been shaped and curated to offer the delegates a high level of professional insight into the AM / 3DP world. This is an event organized by professionals (and professors) for professionals and over-excited newbies are nowhere to be found! There are nearly always newbies, don’t get me wrong, but they tend to be more reserved — sometimes even cynical — in nature, with a profound interest in finding genuine 3DP business solutions. This event is the right place for them.

The event is hosted by the Additive Manufacturing & 3D Printing Research Group (3DPRG) lead by Professor Richard Hague and based at the University of Nottingham; in collaboration with Econolyst Limited, a 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing consultancy headed up by 3DPI favourite Phil Reeves. Phil’s input is key to the professional content of the conference and he actively fights the hype with what he calls “tough love.”

He says: “One of the things I love about this conference is that we look at the facts – what the industry is actually doing and what advancements are actually taking place – rather than the hype and even the fiction around what additive manufacturing and 3D printing might possibly do one day. Working in technology, we are always at the mercy of society, which fluctuates between a fear of what technology might do and having impossibly high expectations of the ‘miracles’ it can achieve. Part of my job is to communicate the realities of additive manufacturing, which as you can imagine involves providing a fair amount of ‘tough love’ to clients.”

And this is the approach that shapes the conference programme, which can be found in full here.

A couple of the highlights that I am looking forward to (apart from catching up with some familiar faces) are the presentation by William Hoyle of techfortrade who will talk about the potential for 3D printing technology and its real economic benefits in emerging markets. Working in this area since 2012, techfortrade has discovered that the very lack of infrastructure and limited logistics that hinder economic growth in many of these countries actually provides a huge opportunity for 3D printing to add value.

I will also be keen to be in the presentation by Joe Wee of Things3D, whose presentation is entitled “Driving consumer adoption of 3D printed products in a licensing value chain.” This is a key challenge for 3D printing. Joe looks sounds as though he won’t hold back — he told the organizers “Controversial though it may be, I believe that the best way for 3D printing to become a truly consumer process is not to sell low-end 3D printers to the general public [because] the quality of the items they produce is not sufficiently high to engage today’s average Western consumer. [Rather] licensed IP is a viable way to accelerate mass adoption for 3D printed consumer products. The global licensed consumer products market is worth over $250bn in retail sales a year after all! However, simply plugging in licensed IP to existing nascent ’3D printing’ marketplaces without solving fundamental friction points may prove problematic and ultimately stifle the growth potential of this disruptive technology. Consumers need to be educated that 3D printing is capable of making things that they want to pay for, and own, and use. And IP owners need to be reassured that this technology does not damage the brand halo that they have spent millions of dollars building.”

Can hardly wait!

The only thing I am not looking forward to is the screening of the World Cup Semi Final on the evening of the Networking Dinner. It’s still a male dominated industry I guess, despite incremental improvements year on year with male/female ratios. And, while I know I am doing nothing to diminish female stereotyping here, enough with the football, already!!