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  • Writer's pictureMatthias Bringezu

1st day at SME Rapid [Long Beach – USA]

First of all the weather in California was so much nicer than in Melbourne at this time of the year. Even if it affects you less when you spend most of the day in conference rooms.

The first day had a little downside as the initial plan was to attend the tour to Northrop Grumman to see the F/A-18 Line and the Composite Center. However, unfortunately attending the tour was permitted to U.S. citizens only. Instead, I went to the medical workshop “Regulatory & Quality Systems Considerations for 3D Printed Medical Devices”. I wouldn’t have thought that a presentation by FDA could be interesting. However, it actually was as Dr. Matthew Di Prima explained how FDA is handling devices manufactured with AM. To my surprise, I met Professor Xinhua Wu in a coffee break. Professor Wu from Monash University is also from Melbourne, where she started a spin-off called AMAERO Engineering. This spin-off handles the commercial requests from aeronautical industry. AMAERO Engineering is operating equipment from EOS, TRUMPF and one only three commercial available CONCEPT LASER 1000R X-Line systems.

In the afternoon was the official kick-off session of the Rapid. The keynote presentation was held by industry expert Todd Grimm who summed up the developments of the last 5 months. Todd certainly had to rush to squeeze an incredible amount of news into his time slot. It was like a presentation on fast forward but he demonstrated clearly how much is happening in the additive world. What followed was the RTAM awards and a panel discussion on Enabling Growth of Thermoplastic Additive Manufacturing. The conclusion was that current pricing of AM materials is way too high and that this won’t be a sustainable business model. I liked the comparison of a CNC machine manufacturer telling his customers where they have to buy their feedstock material. But this is what is happening regarding polymer systems. Material cartridges with RFID chips to prevent the use of third-party material, very similar to the 2D printing industry. Regarding metal AM systems we can see already a shift to more systems with an open machine architecture. In industry is single source supply a risk, something nobody likes to add to his business case. A perfect example of such risks was an explosion at a plant of EVONIK in 2012. This tragic event that killed two workers made headlines globally as it was affecting the supply of Nylon powders for Selective Laser Sintering industry.

The first day ended with the Materialise welcome reception with drinks at the poolside. It was a nice opportunity to network. I saw a lot of familiar faces, what showed me that the industry is still small even if it is growing its revenue at such crazy speed:

Scott Dunham, Senior Analyst SmarTech Markets Publishing, addressed this trend in his presentation. The AM industry has quadrupled in the last five years and the predictions for the next five years scopes an identical growths. The slide with the headline “Quantifying an Explosion” pointed out the fact that the growths predictions for the sales number of metal AM machines for 2014 were exceeded by 27% to a total growth of 89%.

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