Today we start a new series that will examine various digital transformations, effects, and implications on work in general and specifically on additive manufacturing (AM). The series is obviously triggered by the current state of the workforce due to the Coronavirus pandemic but we see going digital as an ongoing process, a direction we’ve been heading at for a while. COVID-19 gave this trend a boost and accelerated it a result of the new social distancing rules, and other failures that stem from the pandemic. In this series, we will look at different aspects that are going through a transformation to digital these days, such as the supply chain, manufacturing (as in automation and smart manufacturing), working from home, transportation and travel, long-distance collaborations as well as the localization of physical expertise. The list is long – from culture and tourism to the factory floor, each iteration will try to shine a light on the areas relevant to the AM ecosystem. Let’s start with industry events going digital.
The New Events
One of the things we noticed quite a lot lately is the growing popularity of online conferences and webinars. It started with the notion of “what can we do to stay connected and entertained in times of home isolation”. The web immediately reacted with online lectures in a diverse range of topics, virtual tours through cities and museums, and so on. Businesses weren’t far behind with inforative webinars. As time goes by it’s becoming clear that social distancing is the new normal, and things will have to change, at least to a degree. Working from home and holding meetings via zoom has become natural by now, and events for thousands of people in their current form seem to be a thing of the past, at least for the near future.
Last month, 2 major events in the AM ecosystem were scheduled to take place, as the effects of the coronavirus exacerbated they were unfortunately canceled. But the AM ecosystem is determined not to come to a halt. Apart from joining the efforts in providing protective equipment, the ecosystem is finding ways to move forward despite the difficult times. Maintaining connections, working together, sharing knowledge, announcing new technologies and applications is part of the normal progression of AM. If meeting physically is not an option – virtual events are becoming the new normal. Last week The Digital Additive Manufacturing Marathon (DAMM) conference took place which included lectures and panels from 40 AM companies as well as virtual networking sessions. A few days earlier, the AMFG organized an event that gave a stage to the move to digital. Especially in a talk given by our LEO Lane co-founder and VP business Lee-Bath Nelson about the important benefits and pitfalls of digital supply chains and virtual inventory (you can find the full video here). We expect to see more of these events in the near future, it can even become a more economically sensible option, minimizing costs related to space, flight, etc. Of course, meeting and seeing people in person will always have a stronger impact, but as the medium grows in various industries, new virtual solutions will replace (at least for now) the need to be physically present in order to do business.
Gaging the Activity
One of the challenges that come up as events become virtual is how to choose what to attend. The relative simplicity of arranging and executing events online can create an overflow of events. Still, it’s important to manage time. While the way a virtual event takes place requires a very different set of skills, the indications of what is a good event are somewhat similar to physical events. One is who’s attending, numbers are always good but at the same time, it’s important to make sure the participants are companies or people you’re interested in hearing and seeing. The second is the opportunity to engage in conversation. It’s important in virtual events to recreate the sense of ease in which conversations take place in physical events. Hearing an interesting online lecture is great, but will you be able to exchange thoughts with the speakers or other participants? That kind of informal engagement is important in any ecosystem, especially in the AM community which progresses through collaborations and the exchange of knowledge. Webinars are a popular solution to these challenges – it seems that 2020 is the year of the webinars. Additive Manufacturing Media, Engineering.com, and other news outlets are hosting webinars these days. If you look at the list of webinars, it seems that the medium encourages very specific topics and conversations. Some examples are: Optimizing Serial Production with AM Software, held by 3D Systems, How to Plan a Successful Transition to Serial Additive Production held by GE Additive, and more (up top 3D Systems automated manufacturing – photo by Michael Petch).
Still, it isn’t easy to engage from afar, especially when it comes to things we are used to seeing, but virtual events have their benefits when it comes to timely reactions. Just recently Recreus launched a new polypropylene material, and while it wasn’t done as a showcase part of an event the company and the material gained traction. As Cristina Hernández, Recreus Marketing Manager said in an interview: “Actually, we are very happy with the reception and interest that the material is having, and also, it is curious, because we are very grateful that it has coincided that this material is being an ideal solution against COVID-19, creating two success cases with 3D printing (adapters for Decathlon masks, #skuba project, and adapters, #splitter project, to divide the pulmonary ventilation circuit). So it is launched at a good time”.
The media is also part of the event equation. A virtual event can easily generate its own materials for PR purposes (as everything is digitized from the start) but the eye, ear, and overview of industry-related reporters can give a different and valuable perspective. There is also an opportunity here for real-time reporting, adding a layer of information on top of the happenings in the event, in real-time. One example from the sports world is Steve Ballmer’s take on what watching sports will look like. Basically the format adds additional information that can be looked at from different perspectives, according to your interests. In the AM world, following the cancelation of the AM events, Sarah Goehrke decided to try and replace the interactions and interviews she usually conducts at these events with a virtual marathon interview session. Such an initiative might have been done initially as an alternative choice but the intensity has its benefits in providing a different perspective. Summing up three dozen interviews held in one day(!), Goehrke identified a number of emerging trends: collaborations, localized supply chains, and product launches. Three areas that have been challenged due to current events yet are quickly adapting, changing, and – digitizing. More about how these areas go digital, as the series continues.
What are the digital transformations you are facing? Tell us what you would like to read more about and we will try to include it in the series. Follow us for more on the Go Digital Series – #DAMsmart. For more insights and information follow us on LinkedIn or subscribe to our newsletter for weekly updates.