The 3D printing industry’s largest show has made the wise decision to go fully virtual for 2020.
Though the show is only a few years old, Formnext grew very quickly to become the largest annual event in additive manufacturing. We’ve loved attending each year, watching the event grow and grow, outgrowing hall after hall at the large Frankfurt Messe exhibit center. Last year, a unique question even arose: had the show grown too big to handle?
From the much-changed perspective we all have in 2020, that question seems like we were rather spoiled for choice in a less virus-spoiled calendar.
Additive Manufacturing Event Cancellations
As we all know, the novel coronavirus hit this year hard. Just as I was returning from maternity leave in March, having missed Formnext 2019 with the idea that “there’s always next year” and I started to look forward to returning to the 3D printing road — the world shut down. And so did major industry event after major industry event, as first individual shows and then the entire spring calendar of 3D printing shows were cancelled (or “postponed”).
In many cases, event organizers chose the cautious route of cancellation; other times, their hands were perhaps forced as exhibitors pulled out before official cancellation.
Some events initially postponed to later in the year before cancelling for 2020. Materialise World Summit, for example, planned to push back timing from mid-May to early November. Unfortunately, Materialise announced in late July that they would not be holding the much-anticipated event this year.
Additive Manufacturing Digital Events
All has not been lost, though, as the 3D printing industry has stayed connected through a fast-rising wave of digital events.
Additive World was perhaps the first large event to digitize this spring, and many other events quickly followed in its footprints. A preponderance of webinars and digital conferences arose, as digital manufacturing went more fully digital.
Connection is crucial to a growing industry like additive manufacturing, and the industry really stepped up its game in finding new ways to do so. Many new options for keeping in touch with vendors and customers have arisen over the last six months.
We missed speaking to everyone at events, so we even held our own successful Rapid-Fire Interview Day this summer. We may just be doing this again in the next month or two, as we thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to touch base directly with a few dozen 3D printing companies in a single day.
The Big Events
While every event cancellation has been a loss, some of the largest events in manufacturing worked overtime in trying to keep afloat and maintain at least some in-person aspect, however altered.
IMTS was among these, as the massive International Manufacturing Technology Show again anticipated more than 2,500 exhibitors for 2020. Following several reworkings of plans, in June IMTS cancelled the 2020 event — and is focusing instead on a fully virtual offering. IMTS Network will be broadcasting next week, while IMTS Spark will kick off online on September 21; the full in-person event is slated to return to Chicago in 2022.
But of course, the biggest question in additive manufacturing specifically has always been the industry’s largest show.
Formnext has been quite vocal about its plans to continue this year. In April, organizers announced that they were intending to present the 2020 edition, complete with 559 registered exhibitors and anticipating more to come. In May, the Formnext team stated again that the event would happen, and they were working with health officials to find the safest ways to do so, initially citing reduced visitor density and guaranteed high hygiene standards.
In June, Formnext organizers announced full COVID-19 safety protocols for the in-person event. Among these were:
- Touchless Registration
- Larger Aisles
- Social Distance Monitoring
- Booth Design
- Air Circulation
- Digital Access
Now it’s September — and unfortunately, though not entirely unexpectedly, only the last of these protocols will be observed. Today, Formnext announced that it is cancelling the in-person event for this year.
We had anticipated as recently as yesterday that even if this event were to proceed, it would be local, or regional at best, as travel restrictions and increasing cases of viral spread continue to pervade.
“Dear #Additivemanufacturing and #3Dprinting community. We didn’t make it. The current situation around Corona/COVID-19 with new outbursts all over Europe and travel restrictions becoming tighter don’t allow us to have a physical #Formnext 2020. Together with the advisory board we decided yesterday unanimously to cancel the event in #Frankfurt. We fought for a real person to person event but showing consideration for the exhibitors, the visitors and the brand it’s a sensible decision. We will now concentrate on the virtual #FormnextConnect and come back to you with more information about our virtual event,” Sascha F. Wenzler, Vice President Formnext Mesago Messe Frankfurt, shared today on LinkedIn.
The official LinkedIn announcement from Formnext states:
Formnext Connect is the form of Formnext we get this year.
It will begin on November 10th and will include digital services like:
- Exhibitor presentations in showrooms:
- Chat function
- Lead generation / lead tracking
- Intelligent matchmaking with all participants supported by AI
- Live streaming
- On-demand content of the supporting program and webinars
- Online meetings with exhibitors
While we’re very sorry to miss everyone in Frankfurt this year, this decision is ultimately a wise one. Viral cases are still spreading and travel restrictions remain in place; we didn’t know, for example, if I’d be allowed to travel out from the US this year were I to try to attend, though Kerry and Marney were planning to fly from Canada. And if any of us could travel, would we be able to do so safely? Fabbaloo is a team of three, and we each had to make these decisions for ourselves; larger teams, like exhibiting companies, would have had to make those decisions a dozen or more times over, as well as factoring in the costs to bring in equipment.
Thank you to Formnext organizers for ensuring every step of the way that planning was done with both industry and safety in mind. Here’s hoping we can all work together to lower the spread of this virus (please wear a mask in public and practice social distancing — and wash your hands!) so we can all meet again in 2021.
We look forward to Formnext Connect, and will definitely be joining the virtual community in November.