Rapid+TCT 2022: first impressions as North America’s leading 3D printing event returns at full throttle

When America’s most prominent 3D printing event returned to celebrate its 30th anniversary last year, it offered participants a long-overdue chance to catch up, exchange ideas and celebrate the innovation taking root across the industry.

Yet, COVID-related safety measures also prevented parts of the 3D printing community from attending the event, and with mingling there largely curtailed, it could have provided an early glimpse of the ‘new normal.’ Thankfully though, based on the first day of the show’s 31st iteration, it’s already clear that the three-day event has got its mojo back. 

With more than 400 exhibitors descending upon the venue, many showcasing new machines, materials, peripherals and software offerings for the first time, 3D Printing Industry is on the scene all week to provide the latest from the show floor. 

The entrance to Huntington Place, Detroit at Rapid+TCT 2022.
The entrance to Huntington Place, Detroit on the first day of Rapid+TCT 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

‘Glocalization’ on the show floor

This year’s Rapid+TCT, hosted at Huntington Place, Detroit, began with a keynote delivered by Siemens CEO Barbara Humpton on the ‘glocalization’ of manufacturing. In her speech, Humpton highlighted how current global supply chain disruption is making in-sourcing and localized production a necessity for those operating in a wide array of industries. 

This trend towards just-in-time manufacturing was reflected on the show floor as well, with the likes of SPEE3D demonstrating the rapid deployability of its LightSPEE3D system. The machine has been used in several recent Australian Army 3D printing trials, and the firm’s CEO Byron Kennedy was on-hand at its booth to showcase battery connectors designed to keep the country’s military vehicles running.

Kennedy explained that these battery connectors, which usually take at least 16 weeks to manufacture and ship, can be SPEE3D 3D printed in just ten minutes, while post-processing them is so simple, he was able to perform the task there and then.

A SPEE3D 3D printed battery connector at Rapid+TCT 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
A SPEE3D 3D printed battery connector at Rapid+TCT 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

At the show, the Pantheon team also talked up the in-sourcing potential of their high-speed HS3 machine. Said to be capable of five times faster cycle times than comparable systems, the industrial-grade printer isn’t set to be launched until Q3 2022. However, that hasn’t stopped the Canadian team behind the unit deploying it to help early adopters secure their supply chains via digitized manufacturing.

“We’re actually working with a couple of groups already on digitizing supply chains,” explains Pantheon CEO Bob Cao. “Right now we have a project with Vancouver General Hospital, where we’re essentially creating a digital inventory of plastic medical goods. We’re also looking at some things in the defense sector. That’s starting to really blow up for us, and speed is enabling that to be possible.”

Pantheon's HS3 3D printer on-show at Rapid+TCT 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
Pantheon’s HS3 3D printer on-show at Rapid+TCT 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

‘A little less conversation’ 

As ever, Rapid+TCT’s SME Zone proved to be a hive of debate at this year’s event, with one discussion on material sustainability proving to be particularly thought-provoking. On the AMGTA-sponsored panel, which also featured Hoganas’ Kennt Almkvist and Tekna Holdings’ Luc Dionne, 6K Additive’s Frank Roberts said there needs to be a “little less conversation and a little more action.”

Roberts’ candid assessment of the need for action in driving the recyclability of feedstock was echoed by his peers on the panel, and on the show floor there was evidence that this idea is starting to gain traction elsewhere in the industry as well. 

In the run-up to the event, Braskem launched its first sustainable filament range. At the firm’s booth, its Innovation and Technology Leader Alexandre Luz explained that the ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), recycled polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) materials may include sugar cane, but this doesn’t come at the expense of end-performance. 

Although, while Luz says the polymers are “perfect for prototyping,” he admits that Braskem is still working out exactly how extensive their CO2-saving capabilities are, and they continue to “try to measure” this via lifecycle analyses (LCAs). 

Braskem's new sustainable 3D printing filament range. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
Braskem’s new sustainable 3D printing filament range. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

Jabil also released the eco-friendly PK 5000 material at the event. Designed to sequester carbon monoxide and turn it into a solid form, the polymer is not only more sustainable than common nylons like PA12, but features improved strength and chemical resistance. However, according to Jabil’s Luke Rodgers, the powder’s launch only represents a first step in what needs to be a collaborative effort. 

“In general, I think that as an industry, we need to get more and more involved in the standardization of these types of processes, and in level setting,” added Rodgers. “Certifying bodies like TÜV SÜD have taken a strong lead in this area, but in general, industries and OEMs are also going to have to take part in the process.” 

A set of sample parts 3D printed from Jabil's new eco-friendly PK 5000 material. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
A set of sample parts 3D printed from Jabil’s new eco-friendly PK 5000 material. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

Unlocking builds where size matters 

Rapid+TCT events usually see the showcasing of several impressive large-format prints and machines, and thus far, this year’s event has been no exception. Even though the Thermwood Corporation demonstrated one of its smaller LSAM units, it was still big enough to produce a huge build in live-action. The firm also had a massive BELL helicopter blade mold on-show that took just three hours to print. 

Similarly, at Sciaky, its VP of Marketing Robert Phillips explained how Lockheed Martin has managed to use one of its systems to create the bottom half of a large satellite propellant tank. According to Phillips, the defense contractor, recently outed as being part of Biden’s AM Forward initiative, is able to realize builds like this thanks to a “natural advancement of the technology” that has occurred in the last decade.

Elsewhere, at the other end of the scale, XJet was kind enough to invite the media to Azoth’s facility, where its first Carmel 1400M 3D printer installation took place in March 2022. While press photography was forbidden at the event, Azoth’s team there say that adopting NanoParticle Jetting is increasingly allowing them to meet smaller-scale use cases with “fine tolerances” and “complex overhangs.”

A Carmel 1400 system, similar to that installed at Azoth's facility. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
A Carmel 1400 system, similar to that installed at Azoth’s facility. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

What’s coming up? 

Besides the emergence of more details on the above, there’s plenty more to come at Rapid+TCT 2022 for attendees and 3D Printing Industry followers alike. Before exhibits re-open at 10am EDT for the event’s second day, Honeywell Aerospace’s Brian Baughman is set to kick things off with a keynote on the industrialization of 3D printing in aerospace, ahead of two more days of sessions chaired by leaders from across the sector. 

From an automotive panel with experts from Aerolytics, Ford, General Motors and Honda, to the day three keynote by Dimension Inx’s Caralynn Collens on 3D printing’s clinical potential, visitors should find something of interest in Rapid+TCT’s remaining schedule, no matter which industry they hail from. 

On the launch front, many exhibitors haven’t been shy in previewing their future plans either. Azoth’s crew indicated that by continuing to work with XJet’s engineers, they anticipate making advances that would make visiting the facility again next year worthwhile. Phillips, on the other hand, teased further Sciaky reveals later this year, and the likes of Jeol are said to have a new electron beam unit on display. 

Of course, this is just a small taste of goings-on at the 2022 Rapid+TCT trade show. 3D Printing Industry will be in Detroit for the whole week, so make sure to subscribe to the 3D Printing Industry newsletter for the full course. 

The Sciaky-3D printed satellite propellant tank at Rapid+TCT 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.
The Sciaky-3D printed satellite propellant tank at Rapid+TCT 2022. Photo by Paul Hanaphy.

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Featured image shows the entrance to Huntington Place, Detroit during Rapid+TCT 2022. Photo via Paul Hanaphy.