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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!

Friday 20 October 2017

IN(3D)USTRY 2017 Gathers Momentum in Barcelona

Heading to Barcelona earlier this month for the second edition of IN(3D)USTRY, which was held 3-5 October, I lost count of the number of friends and family that contacted me prior to departure to say “be careful / stay safe.” The reason for the notable increase in volume of such entreaties was not hard to understand, because my visit to Barcelona coincided with the social unrest in Catalonia immediately following the region’s referendum on independence from Spain. The national news coverage of the situation in the UK was heavily focused on some pockets of serious violence over the weekend, which were news worthy and a cause for concern certainly but, on reflection, also skewed outsiders’ perceptions of the real situation in this beautiful and historical city. From first-hand experience, wandering around the city, that real situation was, by and large, business (including tourism) as usual with a particularly hot topic of conversation.

The venue for IN(3D)USTRY was Fira Barcelona Gran Via and the event was comfortably nestled within Barcelona Industry Week, which hosted eight events in total. One issue that was raised almost immediately and reoccurred across the show, with plenty of humour, was how to pronounce the events name — ‘in-three-dustry’, for the record — but I heard a number of variations.

The organisers of IN(3D)USTRY are fully committed to establishing the event on the 3D printing and additive manufacturing calendar. In terms of this second edition, this included bringing in a dedicated press corp to cover the show who were welcomed personally by Antoni Cami, IN(3D)USTRY’s Project Manager and Miquel Serrano, the Show Director. Both were eager to convey the ethos of the show: “This is now, this is reality not the future. We are introducing thousands of engineers to REAL Additive Manufacturing in Barcelona.”  

At IN(3D)USTRY the emphasis was very much on the applications of 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) — the evidence for which was the dominance of applications right across the exhibition floor. These application exhibits were front and centre, while the significant number of industrial machines were set-back. The range of applications was also interesting and nicely pulled out the key vertical industrial sectors where 3D printing and AM are proliferating, this was also reflected in the busy and varied conference sessions that continued across all three days and comprised of no less than 55 presentations.

The whole event was geared towards information and learning within a welcoming and practical environment to see and understand at first hand the real business opportunities of 3D printing in these vertical sectors. IN(3D)USTRY’s byline “From Needs to Solutions” reinforced this nicely and over the show days, time and again the theme of applying AM in ways that make sense economically, materially and practically were teased out. In some ways, it seems like the recurring applications across the aerospace, medical and automotive sectors have been seen and done before. And this is true, but what is noticeable with these familiar applications is the increasing number of companies adopting AM solutions to meet their needs, and sharing that knowledge; which points to increasing adoption rates.

Even despite there being a significant number of industrial AM machines exhibited, what was really nice was that it didn’t feel like a traditional trade show, but the same viewing opportunities of the platforms were still available. Many of the industrial AM platform suppliers were on the show floor with hardware. Unsurprisingly in Barcelona, HP was a dominant force (the company’s worldwide headquarters for 3D and Large Format printing businesses is located in the city) and the MJF production machines and ancillary equipment drew a great deal of attention. But then so did UK metal AM platform OEM Renishaw with its RenAM 500M system, Trumpf also with its latest (and faster) multi-laser metal AM system, as well as Ricoh and Arburg with their industrial plastic systems. Industrial 3D printers from 3D Systems were also exhibited via a local distributor.

IN(3D)USTRY also provided a platform for smaller companies and organizations. Perhaps the most notable was the desktop laser sintering machine from Natural Robotics, a slick looking platform which will be launched on Kickstarter imminently and offered at an introductory price around €6000. I talked at length with Djamila Olivier Gonzalez, a materials specialist and consultant who has supported the company through the development process, and I got the impression that this is one to keep an eye on. The price performance ratio in particular should be noted.

Covering the global 3D printing industry can sometimes mean you miss regional nuances that actually contribute to the diversity and progress of the whole. IN(3D)USTRY did a wonderful job of highlighting this, once again reinforcing the organizers intent to complement other (often larger) European shows, with a valuable event in a growing industrial region for 3D printing and AM. Talking with Martin Saez from Materialise, his Catalonian heritage not only informed my opinions on the political situation, but also provided valuable insight into the historical context of 3D printing in the area. Before joining Materialise, in a familiar tale, Martin worked for 3D Systems and actually sold the first SLA 7000 system in the region 20 years ago. Now at Materialise, Martin’s passion for the company is clearly evident (actually I have yet to meet a Materialise employee that does not feel the same way) and the company’s core values of sustainability, co-creation and meaningful applications are at the very heart of this.

I was also able to snatch a few minutes with Ramon Pastor, VP and General Manager of HP’s 3D Printing division, subsequent to him hosting Spain’s Minister of Economics, Industry and Competitiveness. There was no specific mention of metal, but the real drive, he told me is for HP to consolidate its MJF process, following the production roll-out in May of this year. This consolidation, Pastor said, is around more functionality and more diverse materials. He also reported the success of the increase in channel partners with a definite increase in orders across EMEA in particular, but also the US and Asia.

Perhaps the most insightful highlights at IN(3D)USTRY came through the well-curated and diverse conference agenda. A high proportion of aero, auto and medical OEMs working with 3D printing and AM were presenting and architecture also featured largely. Now, some of these were repeats from other other 3D printing events this year, however there were also a high proportion of original presentations too, and that’s where my interest lay. The themes that came through though were familiar — the increasing reliance on additive tech for iterative prototyping and reduced product development times, the push towards production and validation. Similarly, the challenges highlighted by many of the OEMs were also recurring, specifically the need for more materials and at lower costs, qualification (in-process and for end-use parts), requirements for process automation.

One presentation really made me do a double take, however. A few sentences in, Melanie Barriere from the Department of Innovation at Renault said, and later repeated: “We don’t use a lot of AM …. When we do, it’s mostly for functional prototypes and mostly plastic parts.” Considering the vast AM knowledge base that Renault has via its Sports division, I was really surprised at this assertion, even while understanding that OEMs are generally reticent in presentations like this. That said, Renault is a massive organization and they wouldn’t be the first big company not to utilize its own IP across divisions. I’m going back a few years but I clearly remember talking to two different Rolls-Royce employees at one event — one was there as an expert in AM, the other was there to discover what AM was about and didn’t even know the company had in-house AM machines, let alone how to access them.

IN(3D)USTRY has all the right ingredients to continue its growth trajectory and to provide an industrial platform for the 3D printing and AM sector in Southern Europe.

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