As a veteran attendee of the annual TCT UK show, the 2021 event was not only a clear break from the past in terms of its rebranding to TCT3SIXTY, but the attendance at the show was notably different from years past. The recurring comment from every vendor I spoke to was “quality over quantity”. While the sheer volume of visitors to this year’s show may have been less than previous events— around 4,000—the intent of those who braved the fuel shortage to attend did so with very specific enquiries in mind, and chequebooks in hand. TCT3SIXTY was a bellwether for the additive industry; as we move into the next decade, the broader market is clearly maturing, and investors are looking to invest.
Perhaps recognising that the audience of such shows as TCT is changing, the trade show floor boasted fewer 3D printing OEMs—with those who did feature such as 3D Systems, Ultimaker and EOS having much smaller footprints than in years gone by—and instead a much stronger showing of technology resellers from industrial systems through to desktop technology resellers. The message was clear, this show was for selling, not showing off.
Stratasys technologies dominated the event, with all three UK resellers (Laserlines, Tri-Tech and SYS) showcasing a slew of new PolyJet and FDM platforms, as well as soft launching some new technologies via demonstration parts. The newest addition to the FDM family, the large format F770 printer, garnered plenty of attention from visitors and vendors alike. This large format printer continues the ethos of the F-series line of printers for reliable and affordable FDM prototyping, with the 770 meeting the needs of those needing large format parts, a niche that until now only BigRep and German RepRap have catered to, and now face competition in that space from the inventor of that technology.
Stratasys has also made some sizable M&A moves this year, with the acquisition of Origin and RPS. Whilst neither the Origin One or RPS’s Neo line made physical appearances due to logistical difficulties (a recurring gripe from many of the tech vendors at the show, with most expressing frustration in manufacturing or shipping delays for printers as a consequence of the global COVID-19 disruption), the Stratasys resellers did exhibit parts that demonstrated the surface quality and performance characteristics in the case of Origin, and the part scale delivered by the Neo, evidenced with a nearly 1 metre model of the London Gherkin.
3D Systems, whilst having a comparatively smaller footprint at the event, made an impact by showcasing the applications of their diverse set of technologies, with the only machine on their stand being the Figure 4 SLA system. With a significant focus on metals, the showcase of parts aptly demonstrated several examples for how 3D printing can support semiconductor manufacturing, such as a 3D printed metal silicon wafer table and fluid manifold leveraging optimized geometries that increase efficiency.
HP’s appearance, whilst often prominent at TCT and one of the top sponsors at this year’s show, was conspicuously reduced, with Matsuura carrying the torch and presenting their technology in place of the OEM.
Outside of the hardware space, design and prototyping service providers made an impression at this year’s TCT. Cambridge-based Complete Fabrication, a design and prototyping agency with a 30-year history saw interest from both visitors to TCT, as well as visitors from the adjacent MedTec show. Another stand-out design agency was Techcraft 3D, a relative newcomer but positioning themselves as a concept-to-production design firm similar to the service provided by Materialise.
The conference component of this year’s TCT3SIXTY was a shift from the usual TED Talk-esque grand stage towards two smaller speakers’ corners, with mixed success and attendance due to the open format. The split in topics, however, were clear; how to evaluate 3D printing within a business, and the potential of the technology within the medical industry, two topics in vogue after a year or more of the technology being heavily reported as saving the day when it came to medical equipment stock outs and supply disruption.
The most significant presentation perhaps of the entire conference line-up, if determined by its potential to support business investment in 3D printing, came from Phil Reeves, Founder of Reeves Insights, presenting the first documented standard for assessing the business case of 3D printing technology. Developed by Phil Reeves alongside the British Standards Institute (BSI), the PAS 6001 standard is a first pass at attempting to codify and document the necessary steps for an organisation to make an informed evaluation of the technology as a tool for business innovation and growth.
With a year’s hiatus, TCT3SIXTY 2021 was markedly different. As one reseller articulated, “There are no more tire kickers.” Those in attendance at this year’s TCT were there because they had a specific technology, application, or problem in mind. None were there to wander the aisles and look at the “cool stuff”. And this is most likely a sign of things to come, with RAPID a few weeks prior demonstrating a similar trend. Whilst this trend is likely to lead to smaller crowds, a risk for events organisers, the real winner here is technology vendors, who are increasingly finding that smaller but more educated and intelligent crowds leads to better and more productive conversations, further supported by an ever increasing number of organisations and experts, such as the British Standards Institute, providing increasingly detailed and accessible information for business leaders to better understand, identify and evaluate how the technology can support them.
About the Author
Oliver Smith is an innovation and technology strategist and founder of Rethink Additive with a decade of experience in the industry supporting organisations to understand, evaluate and deploy 3D printing. Prior to founding Rethink Additive, he held the position of Senior Strategy Manager at Stratasys, and was the Lead Innovation Consultant at Blueprint Consulting.
Rethink Additive is a 3D printing consultancy firm, providing consulting, workshops and training to clients across a broad range of industries to understand and implement 3D printing throughout their organisation to drive growth, reduce costs and spur innovation.