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Will Physical 3D Printing Conferences Degrade Into Local Events?

Will Physical 3D Print Conferences Degrade Into Local Events?
Formnext in better days [Source: Fabbaloo]

I’ve been puzzling over how our team should handle upcoming physical 3D printing events, and came to a realization.

Physical 3D Printing Events

We normally attend a few physical events each year, as that’s perhaps the best way to rapidly capture information about as many 3D printing companies as possible. Last year at Formnext, for example, there were over 700 exhibitors with something close to 30,000 in attendance to see them. This is by far the largest physical 3D print event taking place on the planet.

For a time, Formnext 2020 was lining up to break even those records, with over 850 exhibitors, and the expectation of thousands more attendees. However, circumstances changed, as we all know.

3D Printing Conferences in the Pandemic

In the early stages of the pandemic many events were simply cancelled. Some were “postponed” until next year, which seems suspiciously like a cancellation to me, although perhaps there are some legal reasons for describing it that way. Some events became virtual, but in my opinion the value for myself and team was always less than what one would receive from an in-person event.

As we pass time getting closer to Formnext 2020, we find that event has not cancelled or “postponed” anything. Indeed, they’ve put out announcements that they intend on proceeding with an in-person event, albeit with stringent new procedures for keeping visitors and exhibitors as safe as possible. These include new regs on spacing of exhibitor booths, larger aisle ways and presumably trainloads of sanitizer at every portal. They call this the “Corona-Edition” of Formnext.

Could they execute an event with those new procedures? Certainly they could. The question is, will anyone actually attend?

Decisions Facing 3D Printing Vendors

For attendees the equation is pretty straightforward. If virus levels in Frankfurt, the site of Formnext, are sufficiently low — meaning below the risk level of the individual — then in-person attendance could be considered. But wait, there’s another consideration: isolation requirements.

Almost every country has isolation rules to follow upon entry (and some countries even have them within provincial or state boundaries). Typically one would be required to isolate for 14 days, which is the length of time for the virus to appear — or not. After that period, and if the individual is showing no symptoms, it’s presumed they are clear.

Now remember that Formnext is a highly international event, with parties coming from worldwide locations to exhibit and view products.

Some of those countries will no doubt be on “the list” that requires 14 days of isolation. If that’s the case, then there’s no point in trying to attend. That’s especially so if the individual requires an additional 14 days of isolation upon return home.

Even if it seems that isolation is not required, those regulations could change at any time, should epidemiology reports downgrade. That’s something that’s at the mercy of the health authorities and poses a level of travel risk that many would not undertake. Why book travel when it could be effectively rendered useless on any day?

For exhibitors the situation is even worse. I’m told by one vendor contact, who shall remain anonymous, that Formnext is accepting exhibitor bookings, but will not provide refunds should regulations change in a way to prevent attendance.

This poses a difficult decision for many non-German vendors: should they take the risk of booking but then not going and losing valuable cash in a troubled economy?

I suspect that many international vendors are not willing to take that risk.

Regional 3D Printing Events

What does this mean for Formnext? I suspect they may find the show will be composed almost entirely of local (German) vendors and attendees who can more-or-less freely travel to the exhibition hall. Perhaps some from nearby European countries may find travel similarly straightforward, but I doubt you’ll find many — or any — exhibitors or attendees from outside Europe.

The effect here is that this formerly worldwide in-person event may suddenly transform into a local or at best regional event, at least until virus conditions change for the better.

This is likely going to be the case for any other in-person 3D print events, as well, as they will surely be subject to the same conditions as Formnext.

For the foreseeable future it’s going to be a regional world, at least until we see an improvement in pandemic conditions.

What is our team doing about Formnext? We’re booked, but watching closely. As the dates get ever closer, we’re leaning to not attending, and I think that’s the same decision many international participants could be making.

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