A Review of TCT Show 2016

Rachel Park gives a rundown of the TCT Show for Fabbaloo.

The TCT Show, this year boasting its 21st edition, continues to go from strength to strength.

Back at the NEC in Birmingham, England, in the heart of the UK’s still-strong manufacturing belt, the show not only brought together a wealth of additive manufacturing (AM) and product development exhibitors, it also manifested a real and vibrant buzz of positivity around the 3D printing industry. While it can be argued that TCT is a regional show, albeit the strongest in the UK, I believe it reflects an increasingly positive (again) global trend in AM and 3D printing, in much the same way as the RAPID (U.S.) and form next (Germany) events do in their respective regions.

Each of these shows does draw global exhibitors, but the visitor numbers for each reflect a high regional bias, and I think this is a contributory factor to the increased number of shows across the year. I’m sure there are plenty of people who would argue differently, but that’s my take.

Back to TCT, though.A surprisingly fast trip down the M6 saw me heading into the NEC slightly ahead of schedule and with enough time to grab a much-needed coffee. I was barely through the front door when I bumped into the Carbon team. Exhibiting for the first time at TCT, the team was excited to say the least and it was a lovely start to the day. I was able to sit down with Phil DeSimone and Paul DiLaura, Carbon’s new vice president of sales, who came to the company from DassaultSystèmes, later in the day to probe more specifically into Carbon’s novel business model, expansion intent and continued material development.

The Carbon stand was quite busy at TCT Show 2016. (Image courtesy of Fabbaloo.)

The Carbon stand was quite busy at TCT Show 2016. (Image courtesy of Fabbaloo.)

Carbon’s stand on the show floor was incessantly busy over the two days, but there was considerable disappointment from various quarters at the lack of a working machine at the show. However, the first platform will not arrive in the UK until Q1 2017.

Another company that had a massive presence at TCT was HP. The company was, quite simply, making a statement to the AM community relative to the size of its stand. But it did suffer from a similar problem to Carbon, in that there was no working machine at the show. Shipping of the Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) platforms are quoted as Q2 2017—May, I was told. But the positivity that both Carbon and HP are generating was palpable and a contributing factor in lifting the entire sector, I think.

HP's massive display at TCT Show 2016. (Image courtesy of Fabbaloo.)

HP’s massive display at TCT Show 2016. (Image courtesy of Fabbaloo.)

My foot was barely over the threshold of Hall 3A before I ran into a couple of old favorites within a few minutes of each other. Catching up with Andrew Allshorn of 3D SQUARED and Neil Burns of Croft Additive Manufacturing basically set the tone for the day, with reports of fast growth and exciting new projects that I am not allowed to report on yet. But some of the clients’ names they were whispering were really very impressive and indicative of the attention and application of additive tech today. The secrecy and NDA frustration remains the same, though, unfortunately. Drives me mad!

I was delighted to be able to sit down with Phil Dickens and his wife, Carrie. Phil was speaking at the TCT conference, which unfortunately passed me by this year, but was also representing Added Scientific. My eye was caught by Carrie’s jewelry designs, however.

3D-printed jewelry by artist Carrie Dickens. (Image courtesy of Fabbaloo.)

3D-printed jewelry by artist Carrie Dickens. (Image courtesy of Fabbaloo.)

A talented designer, Carrie had some of her additive pieces with her as demonstrators. They are beautiful, but we were chatting about the process of manufacturing them, both the challenges and the results. The challenges, as it turns out, come with the post-processing and tolerances—echoing the voices of many manufacturers regardless of sector.

I was also fascinated to learn about some of the other projects being undertaken by the consultancy firm Added Scientific. Of particular note was the Functional Lattice Package (FLatt Pack) software, which is specifically being developed to create strong lattice structures that can be additively manufactured to enable a wide range of applications to benefit from lightweighting, which can bring huge cost savings to users of AM.

This was a recurring theme from vendors and users alike over the two days and is a primary driver in the adoption of AM technologies—right up there with time savings. No matter what else changes across the additive landscape, these themes remain constant.

A good example came from Stratasys’ announcement at the show of its partnership with the French company Schneider Electric, a global organization that has adopted both Fortus and PolyJet processes across its operations and has gone on record to report a 90-percent improvement in time and cost savings as a result.

Over the two days at TCT, virtually every conversation I had with vendors and visitors alike was peppered with this sort of positivity. However, I say “virtually” because there is still much work to be done, as evidenced by a conversation I had with independent consultant Kevin Smith—work that needs to be done outside the affirmative community hubs that events like TCT create.

Many of the vendors were reporting that the awareness and understanding of visitors was noticeably higher than even last year. But while attendance was high, what about all of those companies that have not engaged with AMor those that have but still don’t “get” it? As Smith and I talked about the disruptive nature of additive tech, he told me how it is still being resisted by a large number of companies, mostly companies such as foundries that are so entrenched in traditional ways of working that they can neither comprehend nor believe the advantages that are presented to them—even when the costs, based on real benchmark products, are set down right in front of their eyes.

One project that Smith cited was for a company where he could demonstrably prove vast savings in part costs, improved part quality and hundreds of thousands of pounds saved in shipping costs. The company refused to proceed based on a complaint of “but there’s no tooling!”

“Unless we change this perception, the disruption just won’t happen in production,”Smith told me. He’s a man on a mission—a mission we all need to undertake!

A couple of companies were noticeably absent from TCT, mostly U.S. companies such as 3D Systems (which was represented by resellers), ExOne, Optomec and Sciaky. In addition, Prodways and SLM Solutions were absent, although the latter was present via its UK distributor Laser Lines, which had a very impressive stand in the center of the floor.

3D-printed metal samples from SLM Solutions. (Image courtesy of Fabbaloo.)

3D-printed metal samples from SLM Solutions. (Image courtesy of Fabbaloo.)

In contrast to the absentees and a couple of the big players present, PICSIMA was present on the show floor with a working machine demonstrating 3D printing in silicone. Not surprisingly, it received a great deal of interest. Even though the team behind this process has not acquired the funding for full commercialization yet, I suspect it won’t be long before it does. The potential of this process is phenomenal.

PICSIMA's desktop 3D printer. (Image courtesy of Fabbaloo.)

PICSIMA’s desktop 3D printer. (Image courtesy of Fabbaloo.)

Concept Laser’s stand at TCT was continually inundated with visitors. It was hard to snatch a few minutes with Ray Neal to catch up, but I finally managed it on day two of the show. The big story there was the production of a medical device component, which was highlighted in a keynote presentation by Alex Berry of Sutrue, which demonstrates just how disruptive AM production can be. Full story to follow—a story that could well set a new precedent!

I also managed to catch up with the Arcam team and was delighted to find the company’s new marketing communications manager was Leslie Frost, previously of Stratasys. To say that the team was all upbeat about the GE bid for acquisition would be an understatement! I did push on how, if the deal is completed at the end of October, it would affect Arcam customers, particularly those operating in the aerospace sector. The resounding response was that it would be better and that yes, GE will absolutely supply and service competitor companies. It happens already with other products and services across the aero sector. I have to say, I still have a cynical voice in my head on this one, but I guess we’ll only find out for sure when—and indeed if—the deal goes ahead.


Further reporting on issues not included in this article can be found here on Fabbaloo.