I’ve noticed there seems to be a split happening in the most recent 3D printing exhibitions, and it could be a permanent thing.
With the public breakout of 3D printing into the public eye in the period following 2012, many 3D printing startups and new players sought coverage by appearing at the then-confused set of relevant tradeshows.
Early 3D Print Trade Shows
At such early shows I recall seeing a bizarre mix of different companies. There would be the massive major players, such as Stratasys or 3D Systems present, showing off their industrial equipment. But side by side with them might be DIY hobby equipment vendors. Some small startup companies eventually became big companies, like Formlabs.
But it was always somewhat confusing at these events due to the mixing of 3D printer categories. It was most confusing for attendees, who were either industrial clients or DIY clients and had to stumble through exhibits inappropriate for their applications.
The most confusing event was certainly CES, the annual Consumer Electronics show, where in 2010 MakerBot started exhibiting, believing their Replicator was indeed a consumer item and thus a relevant product for CES. However, their presence attracted all the other major (and minor) 3D printing vendors, making for a very confusing event. Even worse, virtually all of the attendees had little to do with 3D printing as that technology was only a small portion of the event.
Fortunately, CES is essentially expired as an event for 3D printing, and few companies in the space attend.
But this is really part of a larger trend in my opinion.
3D Print Show Trends
Having attended a number of 3D printing events, there is clearly a trend to segregate machine types into two categories, largely based on the expected target audiences. One one hand, we have the industrial and professional audiences, who seek information about large-scale devices for commercial use and manufacturing. On the other hand, we have the DIY / Hobbyist / Consumer audience, who seek a different form factor of devices, and certainly at a far lower price point.
Today there are now a few large-scale 3D printing trade shows catering to industrial applications, such as Rapid in the US, and Formnext in Europe. These are enormous events where many millions are spent both by vendors and attendees who strike deals with vendors to purchase equipment.
At these events we no longer see the DIY category of equipment, partly because the audience is not particularly interested in that type of device, but also because the cost of exhibiting is usually far out of the range of the smaller vendors producing such equipment.
3D Printing at Maker Faires
The DIY 3D printing equipment now tends to congregate at a different type of event, typically a local Maker Faire or equivalent. Unfortunately, Maker Media crashed earlier this year, putting the flagship Maker Faire events in jeopardy. The two largest such fairs in New York and the Bay Area seem to be cancelled, although there are other smaller Maker Faire events taking place around the world as organized by third parties.
One event in this category that seems to be picking up the vacuum is the East Coast RepRap Festival, or, as they call it, “ERRF”. This event’s 2019 episode recently took place in Maryland, where over 60 vendors exhibited. That’s far, far less than Formnext 2019’s 800+ exhibitors, but it’s a more focused event.
Attending the event were makers of inexpensive desktop 3D printers, as well as many of the OEM component suppliers. Hot ends, extruders and other specialty vendors displayed their products in hopes of attendees and other exhibitors integrating them into their equipment.
Unfortunately, we did not attend ERRF 2019, but we can help you find out more by pointing you to a pair of videos of the event by Fabbaloo friend Joel Telling, who prepared interviews for several of the notable vendors present at ERRF.
Someday we’ll attend ERRF and similar smaller events, but in 2019 it did not happen.