The best way to learn about 3D printing is directly — so go to the events.
It’s officially autumn now, and the fall conference/trade show/event season is picking up in earnest now. This week saw a couple of big events, with TCT Show in the UK and WESTEC in the US, and of course many smaller, more localized gatherings. More are coming up soon: ERRF, some 3DEXPERIENCE events, ASTM workshops, and in November the jewel in the event crown: Formnext.
Go to them.
Not all of them, of course, that’s absurd and both geographically and physically impossible, not to mention the costs and different focuses that suit what you’re looking to get out of attending. There’s a lot to pick from, and a lot of shows out there.
Picking The Right Event
So how do you know which event is right for you?
Start with what you’re looking to get out of attending. Do you want an introduction? Hands-on instruction? Networking? A new business deal? To sell your wares, or find the right fit to invest in something new? Do you just want to relax and geek out with other enthusiasts?
Whether for business or pleasure, there’s at least one event out there that will tick your boxes.
If you want to start local, a nice place to start is checking out a casual meetup, like the monthly Women in 3D Printing events hosted around the world by local ambassadors. These are calm affairs, usually happy hour or coffee, sometimes including a tour of a business you might not otherwise get to see. Everyone is welcome to these events, and it’s a nice way to get to know some of the faces of your local 3D printing community.
There are plenty of interest-specific events as well. For industry, organizations like America Makes will host meetups, while events like 3DHEALS focus on healthcare and are often located in different cities throughout the year. Hobbyists can get a lot out of RepRap Festivals (MRRF, ERRF) where there’s plenty to see in desktop 3D printers from homemade to the latest Prusa (including sometimes with Josef Prusa himself). Software and simulation more your speed? Check out some of Dassault Systèmes’ many events around the world.
Do you want it all? Here’s where the big shows come into play. Think hundreds of exhibitors, thousands of attendees. Formnext has easily won the title as the biggest of these in 3D printing, and it’s coming up quickly.
Looking for a big event but less additive manufacturing-focused? The big show here is IMTS, held every other year (the next is September 2020) with a major showing from across international manufacturing technologies, including a growing — but still show minority — 3D printing section.
But why? This is ultimately up to you.
Seeing is believing is definitely a big part.
I didn’t attend my first 3D printing event until I’d been working in 3D printing publishing for a full year. Personally, during that first year of industry employment I had a job I enjoyed; after I started travelling and seeing the technologies and meeting the participants, I realized I had a career I became passionate about in an industry I truly believed in.
Now I maybe have a problem attending events, in that I go to arguably too many. It’s been great for my air miles, but taxing on me and my poor suitcase. I’m be toning this down by necessity as my husband and I prepare to very soon welcome a tiny new addition to our family who will need us both home more — but these events have become so integral to the work I do that even then I won’t be cutting travel totally out once I’m back to work. (See you at RAPID + TCT 2020?)
So what is it about these?
It’s the people; there are incredible innovators in this space, including the most inspiring people I’ve had the pleasure to personally meet, who are using technology to make the world better.
It’s the technology; there’s a lot to learn from articles and videos online, but nothing quite compares to seeing a 3D printer actually 3D printing, or holding samples of parts made with new materials. There’s a difference between hearing that a part can be a replacement for an injection molded traditional piece and holding it to discover the validity (or absurdity) of that claim.
It’s the discovering for yourself; hand-in-hand with parts-in-hand, events are just a good way to quell skepticism. This industry has been home to a ridiculous amount of hype, so go see the new realities.
What’s actually possible? Who’s doing it? Does it work?
Go to an event — then maybe share what you’ve seen.