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What Does RAPID + TCT 2021 Signal For In-Person 3D Printing Events?

One of many excellent (and fully masked) panels held at RAPID + TCT 2021 — while they may have looked different than previously, the expertise remained on point [Source: Fabbaloo]

A successful 2021 edition of North America’s largest industrial 3D printing event has some interesting implications for in-person shows.

As the world continues to adapt to 21st century pandemic living, restrictions have lifted with rising vaccination rates to bring us together again. We’ve been dipping our toes back in the in-person trade show waters, starting with the relatively small-scale Ceramics Expo. That event gave us an idea of what a return to in-person 3D printing events could look like.

So we jumped into the deep end recently with a return to RAPID + TCT.

RAPID + TCT 2021

Major companies, like Stratasys, continued to welcome crowds to large booths [Source: Fabbaloo]

All the hallmarks of a RAPID + TCT event were in place: busy booths with every size 3D printer on display, advanced parts at the forefront, eager sales and marketing folk, excitable colleagues from across the industry, expert-driven presentations on multiple stages.

And masks. And wider aisles. And hand sanitizer aplenty. And venue staff reminding everyone that masks are to be worn over the mouth and nose.

So it didn’t quite look like other editions we’ve attended. But just as we’ve seen in our daily lives, masking is a means to keep going — and so keep going we do.

While perhaps not as many announcements dropped this year as at RAPID + TCT events in the past, we can’t ascribe that wholly to the pandemic. Sure, some companies may have had strategies of announcing just enough to be interesting while keeping their eyes open to what everyone else was doing. 

The 3D Printing Calendar

Big announcements, like from 6K Additive, continued to be celebrated with in-booth festivities [Source: Fabbaloo]

But RAPID + TCT is also typically held in the spring. Spring announcements happened months ago.

There were certainly a lot of announcements to keep up with in Q1 and Q2 of 2021. Investments, acquisitions, and new products continued to come out as this remains a major year for industry progress and, in particular, consolidation.

Without an April/May RAPID + TCT to host the announcements, most pivoted to the virtual realm. There were some happenings at the in-person AMUG 2021, to be sure, but most releases through the first half of this year were streamed, posted, and otherwise digitally broadcast.

Autumnal introductions typically drop at Formnext. The largest global event in additive manufacturing should also be back to in-person this November in Frankfurt. As the team behind Formnext has been very vocal about their intention for a live show, many companies have been keeping that in mind and planning accordingly for their big late-year news.

Attendance will of course remain lower than had been typical, and still other companies have changed their strategies. SLM Solutions went very public with their 2021 breakup with Formnext (“It’s not you, it’s us”) — though I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see them again in Frankfurt in the future. It’s doubtful they’ll be the only big name without a presence on the Formnext floor this year as restrictions remain in flux.

I personally haven’t heard of a single case of COVID-19 transmission from RAPID + TCT (though admittedly I came home with a bug, but testing showed it wasn’t That Illness). That shows that a live show can be a success in 2021.

What We Need

It was wonderful to see people again! [Source: Sarah Goehrke]

There are certain elements that need to be in place for a successful in-person 3D printing event.

The largest single element is drive/desire.

That’s clearly there in spades. Attendance at shows has been impacted, yes, but by no means would I describe the RAPID + TCT crowd as “minimal” or even “lacking”. It was a great event. There was palpable enthusiasm in the air as reconnections were met with delight and introductions happened in every direction. The Formnext team is feeding on the hunger of the global AM industry to be back together again, and indeed fueling it with their own excitement.

The next element is of course adherence to pandemic restrictions.

The staff at McCormick Place in Chicago did a good job of posting signage — and, importantly, enforcing it. There were staff whose job it seemed to be to ensure that masks were worn (and worn right) in public areas. Aisles, as noted, were widened, and there was spacing between tables in eating areas, as well as more highly utilized outdoor space for meals and meetings. As formal regulations continue to adapt to changing case counts and variant surges, event organizers have a big job ahead keeping on the right side of their local guidelines — as well as ensuring that all attendees feel safe and comfortable coming together.

Third, excellent communication is needed across the board.

I don’t envy event organizers today. Not that I ever have, mind; bringing thousands of professionals together is a massive undertaking at the healthiest of times. But there are more layers today. Working with media partners, sponsors, exhibitors, and attendees to ensure that everyone stays on the same page requires a huge amount of communication. Understanding who on each team is running point, that messaging is consistent, and that everyone is kept up to date is absolutely vital now more than ever.

3D Printing Events in 2021

Ultimately, in-person events remain vital.

There’s no question about the value of industry events and of the importance of face time. Deals get made at shows: partnerships, product sales, job opportunities. Ideas are exchanged in person, with networking remaining among the top-tier benefits of such a gathering.

My biggest takeaway from RAPID + TCT 2021 is that events today are possible, with great attention paid to every detail along the planning way — and that that planning is very worth it.

Via RAPID + TCT

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