Too Many Industry Events?

Industry and academic conferences and expositions in the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world focus on additive fabrication.

By Terry Wohlers

"Viewpoint" is a monthly column authored by Terry Wohlers for Time-Compression Technologies
This column was published in the September/October 2005 issue.

It's no secret that there are many industry and academic conferences and expositions in the U.S., Europe, and other parts of the world that focus on additive fabrication. And if you take into account industry-specific events, such as those for jewelry, hearing instruments, and medicine, there are even more that include additive processes, although often as a secondary subject. Major corporations also hold conferences and exhibits from time to time, but they are usually not open to those outside the company, except for invited speakers and exhibitors.

When a new conference or industry event emerges, it usually says something about that region of the world. A conference often precedes or coincides with the launch of a society or association. Take, for example, South Africa. It held its first annual conference and founding general meeting of the Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa (RAPDASA) in November 2000 in Pretoria, South Africa. South Africa's sixth annual international conference, called RAPDASA 2005, is October 25-27 and it returns to Pretoria. Growth of additive processes in South Africa has been impressive, especially the last couple years. Much of the credit goes to RAPDASA and its annual event.

Portugal held its first International Conference on Advanced Research in Virtual and Rapid Prototyping (VRAP) in 2003. About a year later, the Portuguese Rapid Prototyping Association was formed and subsequently became a member of the Global Alliance of Rapid Prototyping Associations (GARPA), along with RAPDASA and 16 other member countries. VRAP 2005 is scheduled for September 28 - October 1, in Leiria, Portugal.

Industry-Specific Events

In March 2005, the Medical University of South Carolina served as host of the Second International Workshop on Bioprinting, Biopatterning and Bioassembly. The workshop attracted more than 50 participants from 10 countries. And in late June and early July, an international workshop on biomanufacturing was held in Beijing, China with support from the USA's National Science Foundation. One of the primary topics at both events was the use of additive processes for the deposition of cells to form living tissue. Research in this area could lead to the production of replacement organs for animals and humans.

Jewelry has become an interesting business opportunity for the makers, resellers, and integrators of additive fabrication equipment. Consequently, industry events in the jewelry industry have become the place to market and sell products and systems to jewelry designers and manufacturers. In the past year, I was asked by three individuals (separately) whether I was planning to attend two upcoming jewelry events. One is a large watch, clock, and jewelry exposition held March 31 - April 7 in Basel, Switzerland. The other is called Expo New York, which took place in the spring in New York City. The Manufacturing Jewelers and Suppliers of America organizes it.

Asia and Europe

If I could attend only one event in Asia each year, it would be the Design Engineering & Manufacturing Solutions Expo held in June in Tokyo, Japan. The exposition is excellent, although a few of the companies that normally exhibit were not present this year. This three-day event coincides with a one-day symposium on rapid prototyping that is organized by the Japanese association (RP Japan) and two related societies.

And if I could attend only one event in Europe, it would be the four-day EuroMold trade fair. In my opinion, it is the best event on rapid product development and additive fabrication on the continent. I must admit my bias due to the one-day international conference at EuroMold that I organize and chair each year.

Closer to Home

In the U.S., the established and arguably the most important event on the subject of additive processes is the Society of Manufacturing Engineer's Rapid Prototyping & Manufacturing conference and exposition. Many of the top professionals in additive technologies convened last May in Dearborn, Michigan. For 13 years, SME has used the RP&M event to stage the most impressive set of exhibitors and conference sessions on the subject in North America. (More possible bias here due to my affiliation with SME and this event.)

On occasion, an event will emerge that caters to a particular region of the U.S. This year, its Northwest RP Conference 2005, scheduled for October 13 at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon. This second year event promises to fulfill a need for information on the subject in Oregon and neighboring states.

Events dedicated to education and research have always been important to the growth and development of this industry. The Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium in Austin, Texas is the granddaddy of them all. The 16th annual conference was held in early August, an event that I attended and was glad that I did.

User conferences have become important places to share information and learn about some of the newest products and product upgrades. I attended the SLA/SLS User Conference in April in Tucson, Arizona, and was pleasantly surprised by the large attendance. I'm also making plans to attend the Stratasys Worldwide User Conference 2005 in October in Orlando, Florida. The Z Corp. User Group Meeting 2005 is the same month and is being held at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

One of the most unique events each year is COFES. (COFES stands for the Congress on the Future of Engineering Software.) COFES2005 was held in April at the beautiful Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. Each year, the event concentrates on computer-aided design and product lifecycle management (PLM) problems and solutions, although it also covers related subjects. This year, it included a briefing on the future of 3D printing and rapid manufacturing—a subject that has not been covered in the past. COFES is held at one of the busiest times of the year, making it difficult to break away for 2-3 days. However, it was worth it again this year.

So there you have it: A rundown on many events related to additive processes. But the question remains: Are there too many of them around the world? My feeling is the more the better, as long as they are well organized and promoted, offer good value, and are financially sound. The market usually decides when there are too many or when there is an appetite for more. Attending these events not only updates employees on what is new, but gives them the opportunity to meet people in other industries that face similar problems and challenges. The sharing of thoughts and ideas often leads to powerful solutions that are difficult to obtain any other way.

Industry consultant, analyst and speaker Terry Wohlers is principal consultant and president of Wohlers Associates, Inc. (Fort Collins, CO). For more information visit http://wohlersassociates.com.

Industry Events in 2005 (sidebar) 

Second International Workshop on Bioprinting, Biopatterning and Bioassembly, March 13-15, Charleston, South Carolina

SLA/SLS User Conference, April 4-5, Tucson, Arizona

COFES 2005, April 14-16, Scottsdale, Arizona

Rapid Prototyping & Manufacturing 2005, May 9-12, Dearborn, Michigan

Euro-uRapid 2005, May 10-12,

Leipzig, Germany

Rapid.Tech 2005, May 31 - June 1, Erfurt, Germany

6th National Conference on Rapid Design, Prototyping and Manufacturing, June 10,

Buckinghamshire, England

28th Japan Rapid Prototyping Symposium, June 21, Tokyo, Japan

Design Engineering & Manufacturing Solutions Expo 2005, June 22-24, Tokyo, Japan

International Workshop on Biomanufacturing, June 29 - July 1, Beijing, China

16th Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium, August 1-3, Austin, Texas

2nd International Conference on Advanced Research in Virtual and Rapid Prototyping (VRAP 2005), September 28 - October 1, Leiria, Portugal

11th European Forum on Rapid Prototyping, October 4-5, Paris, France

TCT 2005, October 4-6, Birmingham, England

Stratasys Worldwide User Conference 2005, October 5-8, Orlando, Florida

Northwest RP Conference 2005, October 13, Portland, Oregon

Z Corp. User Group Meeting 2005, October 16-19,

Portsmouth, New Hampshire

RAPDASA 2005, Rapid Product Development Association of South Africa's sixth annual international conference, October 25-27, Pretoria, South Africa

EuroMold 2005, November 30 - December 3 (one-day conference is on Dec 2), Frankfurt, Germany