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Ewloe, United Kingdom
Writing, tweeting, debating and occasionally getting a little over-excited about 3D Printing. But always aiming to keep it real!

Wednesday 20 June 2012

International Conference on Additive Manufacturing Will Reveal More than the Latest Developments in AM

So this year, even more than other years, I am really looking forward to attending the International Conference on Additive Manufacturing, organized by the Additive Manufacturing Research Group (AMRG) at Loughborough University (soon to be Nottingham) and Econolyst. This is because it will provide the perfect opportunity to get a firmer handle on the migration of Professor Hague and his team from Loughborough to Nottingham University and what that means, as well as getting to attend a full day of what looks like a very impressive two-day line up of speakers.

Being responsible for the TCT Live conference programme for more years than I care to remember, I, more than most, fully appreciate the considerable time, immense effort (not to mention powers of persuasion) that it takes to arrive at an eye-catching programme that attracts delegates and provides original and engaging content about 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing. (The TCT programme FINALLY went live yesterday btw, but I’ll get to that in a future post, this one is all about my other favourite conference.)

Taking place 10th-11th July, this year sees the venue moving to The Belfry at Nottingham. This change in venue is completely unrelated to the relocation of Professor Hague’s research team, apparently, rather it is the result of the Loughborough university facilities that usually accommodate the AM conference being used for national teams in the run up to the Olympics. A happy coincidence though, I think, as it almost precisely coincides with the actual relocation. The physical move of the team and the conference also symbolizes a shift in focus of the research — as I mentioned in a previous blog post in April.

Talking to Phil Reeves of Econolyst about the move and the refocus, I asked about the new name and branding and why, in the run up to the conference, there had been no change in the marketing material or on the website. He intimated that all the new material is ready and waiting but they are keeping it under wraps for now. It will all be revealed at the conference. Rather annoying, from a personal point of view, but clever and assured. This approach ensures that there is no opportunity for confusion in the run up to the well-established conference in 2012, with a full year for the impact of the new organization to establish itself and for the dust to settle.

Anyway, I should probably get to the conference content, and I have to say, it looks good. Unable to go for the two days, I had to pick a day, and it was mightily hard to choose when faced with the line-up.

With Neri Oxman and Assa Ashuach opening up the first day, the delegates are going to get a fantastic insight into the marriage of design and 3D printing from two of the leading and most impressive individuals in this field. After coffee the subject matter turns to medical — from the earliest days of additive tech — the medical field has been able to generate some of the most interesting (and life-improving) applications and I am certain this session will prove enlightening. Other sessions over the two days will home in on the latest industrial applications of 3D printing for prototyping and manufacturing applications. Toyata and Boeing are the highlights here. But what fascinates me is that this conference, traditionally the focus of R&D in AM, is also extending its outlook to include 3D printing for the consumer, with presentations from Alice Taylor of Makielab and Frank Cooper of the JIIC (consumers do like jewellery!).

The new research and new developments are still very much in evidence, however, with conference sessions dedicated to Processes and Materials Innovations as well as multi-functional 3D printing. Finally, the conference will be rounded up with a session called Progress & Promise, and will look at some of the funding opportunities available for companies that develop or take up additive tech.

As I said, very VERY difficult to decide which day, but I have opted for Day 1 — 10th July. I look forward to catching up with other delegates on that day, in person. If you’re not going, I would highly recommend you double-check your diary. It’s a good one to make time for!  

Wednesday 13 June 2012

3D Printing Intrigue, Opinion and New Ventures

So much time out of the office over the last two weeks has lead to a bit of a backlog and lack of posts. Time away has been for various reasons: meetings, exhibitions and a week of R&R with the family over half term. All good then, batteries recharged and a ton of work to plough through.

It's been an interesting couple of weeks, to say the least. A couple of meetings have thrown up some very intriguing information, which, on pain of death, I am not at liberty to share. In some ways this is really VERY frustrating for me but then, as the kind of person that reads the last page of a book first, I do like knowing what's coming. And there is lots on the horizon, some things are about to come into view and others may take a little longer.

Here's a couple of teasers: First, I heard about a really interesting twist on entry level 3D printing capabilities. Essentially two existing 3D printing capabilities, that would not make anyone's pulse race particularly as they have been available for a while, are being brought together in a way that, I think, might just set the cat among the pigeons. I also think it might even make the most cynical sit up and take notice. Another compelling intimation was the result of a culmination of much industry networking by a long-standing member of the 3DP community. Can't wait for the cat to be let out of the bag on that one.

Ok, ok enough with the riddles.

What can I talk about sensibly? Well, my visit to the capital for PDM 2012 was a good day, not least because it actually felt like summer on that day. Much cosier than previous editions of the show (I was last a visitor in 2010) PDM 2012 was not without its attractions & exhibitors I spoke to seemed impressed with the quality of the visitors. I think everyone was pleased to hear that the show is returning to Telford next year though.

I had very interesting conversations with old friends and new. Stopped by the Objet stand of course and caught up with the guys from IPF and Tritech 3D — I know I've said it before, but it's worth saying again — they really do do a good job and are a great team for advocating 3D printing in general and Objet in particular. The 3D printed pen they gave me was in my possession for all of a few hours before it was summarily claimed by my daughter. On the upside her D&T teacher and product design classmates are all very impressed — there is talk of a school design project as a result.

PDM also threw up a thought-provoking conundrum that I have been pondering for some time — what's happening inside the 3D Systems universe? Talking to the guys at John Burn, resellers of the 3D Systems' Bits from Bytes brand, it was fascinating to get their take on the mid-range 3D printing market. John Burn has a traditional history within the manufacturing sector and the addition of the 3D Touch 3D printer to their portfolio is proving to be a successful initiative as they introduce new and existing clients to the technology. Really lovely guys that have bought into the idea of 3D printing being an extremely useful tool in the manufacturer's tool box. But then talking to an ex ZCorp person (there are rather a lot of them now, unfortunately) the word is that sales of ZCorp tech is down, way down! The figure I heard was 45%. This is appalling, and I really struggle to understand why and how such a great 3D printing technology is being allowed to sink like this by a company that has the resources to make it fly? I continue to ponder ...... if anyone has any thoughts on this, would love to hear them. On or off the record.

I also want to thank Harry at John Burn for pointing me to a SpaceClaim demo. It's been a while since I have stood through a CAD demo, but I am so glad I did. I was mightily impressed with what I saw and heard, particularly in view of the user accessibility and the price for education and the licensing of seats in schools. Nice job, and thanks to Tim and Daniel from Physical Digital for patiently answering my (probably inane) questions.

Then I caught up with old friend Dave Bennion of Ogle Models & Prototypes. This is a great company that I have watched evolve from my earliest days in this industry. Again, it is not ALL about 3D printing for them, it is about combining these fabulous advanced technologies with traditional model making skills. The emphasis, always, is on quality models and 3D printing is an enabler for this. Also fascinating to hear that Ogle is looking at a consumer facing joint venture, again, fully enabled by 3D printing. Keep an eye out for Selassi - beautiful.

Mid-afternoon at PDM I took a phone call from my old boss - Mr Duncan Wood. He took me off guard somewhat when he asked if I would be interested in working with the team on the new PersonaliZe media platform for the next few months. Well, you may have seen the final result of that conversation yesterday? If not, my first blog post for them is now live.

Exciting times!