To continue the unusual year 2020 has turned out to be, the foremost additive manufacturing (AM) show of the year – FormNext – has also gone digital. This is beyond strange, as the trip to Frankfurt for FormNext (FN) is always a major highlight of the year. Beyond being the biggest AM show, the November timing of this event uniquely situates it at a time conducive to beginning, advancing, and closing business deals. Committing the end of one year’s budget or planning ahead to next year’s budget – it’s good timing for both. All of this is fueled by pre-arranged but also chance serendipitous meetings in booths, walking around, or at events at the show and after hours. Great for everyone’s business. In comes a certain virus… So the 2020 FormNext is virtual, it’s called FormNext Connect, and frankly we’re not sure what to expect. In the end LEO Lane decided to take a virtual booth but with no walking around I’m very curious to see how people will explore. What hasn’t changed is that many companies save major announcements for this show – perhaps something to contribute to your browsing choices at the show. If needed, below is a code to attending for free, in case you haven’t gotten one yet. After FN we’ll round up some interesting announcements but here are some things we are interested in in advance.
Free and Clear and… Interesting
To encourage attendance, there are codes for attendees to get free tickets rather than paying the “list price” of €90 (which I think not a single person will pay). Here is the LEO Lane code you can use: FN20AS172. Go to the ticketshop to use it and get a ticket you can use October 28th to December 31st. This free ticket also gives you access to the TCT Conference November11-12 which has many sessions about new research from academics and independent institutions. I’m especially looking forward to hearing Tatjana Popovic speak about how Hemofarm, a pharmaceutical company, is using AM. That’s coming up November 11th at 6pm CET.
Virtual conferences have had some success, though also some fatigue, in these home-bound times. Virtual shows are a bigger challenge and it’s interesting to see how it will be handled. Last week I had the opportunity to participate in the AMO – Advanced Manufacturing Olympics – organized by the US Air Force. I think they had an interesting take on the show part of the event and tried to give the feeling of browsing a show rather than just searching a directory, which often feels futile to some people. I think it was the best attempt so far – I hope Messago (the organizers of FormNext) will surpass it.
As every year, there was a start up competition leading up to FN. This year is no different but what is different is the profile of winners. Of the 5 winners, 2 are pure software companies (Addiguru and ToffeeAM), one provides post processing equipment that heavily relies on software, and 2 are new hardware technologies centered on materials – 1 for metal recycling and 1 for 3D printing polymers with improved properties including recyclability. Congratulations to all the winners, they are all great and we look forward to exploring their virtual booths but 2 of them caught my eye especially.
First there is metal recycling company Molyworks which developed a method to turn scrap metal into AM powder material using a plasma cold hearth melting system they’ve developed. The melting is followed by a spraying step creating the powder. They claim this system allows for “powderization” in a smaller space and a more efficient manner than other systems. They further claim that any scrap metal can go through this process. This company is interesting for many reasons including its mission which is “We exist to eliminate metal waste” and its technology. It’s also interesting as sustainability has been a hot topic for the AM ecosystem. In fact, Molyworks also won the AM Ventures Impact Award in its inaugural year.
The other company that caught my eye is Addiguru. Addiguru provides inspection solutions for the 3D printing process itself. In line inspection is a function that any mature complex manufacturing technology needs, especially if it is layered. Good examples are semiconductors and PCBs (Printed Circuit Boards) which spawned a whole industry of inspection solutions for their industry with companies such as KLA Tencor, Applied Materials, and until recently Orbotech (which was acquired by KLA, and where I worked in the past). The other thing that’s admirable about Addiguru is its approach of integrating with as many players and being camera agnostic so it is not sensor dependent. This requires stronger software skills and a software architecture that is built for integration – both are things we at LEO Lane highly value. Playing well with others is so important to the entire ecosystem and it’s nice to see another start up put that high on its values list.
The Show Must Go On
At the moment of this writing there are 165 exhibitors (including LEO Lane!) signed up for FN – much less than usual (last year there were 852 booths) but there might be late comers still. The Show will be available until the end of the year and Messago offer a matchmaking platform to promote getting to know people. I look forward to seeing how that will work for this highly specialized audience. To facilitate this, FN offers a speed dating platform to all attendees on November 3rd as a preparation to scheduling meetings during the FN days. In addition, it offers exhibitors (for a fee!) various interaction possibilities including expert sessions – these are subject matter webinars. Though a list of available sessions has not yet been published, some companies such as Forward AM (a BASF company), have already announced they will be offering expert sessions.
It will be an interesting experiment to experience FormNext virtually. If you are allotting any time for catch up, and I hope you are, drop me a line and I’d love to catch up or have an intro with someone new. We can schedule a proper zoom for another time, but it will be nice to have a quick 10-15 minute update. Here’s hoping that next year we will be back to meeting in Frankfurt within the “new normal“.