As something of a regular at shows that focus on the engineering industry as a whole, I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of additive manufacturing and 3D printing does not come in any way close to expert – perhaps this is why I hadn’t previously heard of the TCT Show, which focuses on these niches exclusively. Indeed, after seeing the high level of footfall pouring through the entrance doors on the second day of the event, I was even more surprised that it had failed to appear on my radar over the years. In fact, projections estimate that the show will receive in excess of 10,000 visitors over the course of its three-day span, from over fifty different countries.
What is the TCT Show?
The TCT Show is an event dedicated to suppliers and purchasers of additive manufacturing and 3D printing, comprehensively incorporating the individual aspects of these processes, from printers, software, materials and equipment, through to the subcontract supply of components. In addition, it adopts a forward-thinking approach that questions how these production methods can be further embraced within the manufacturing community, promoting the abilities of additive manufacturing and 3D printing to effectively produce high-quality parts that have traditionally been created using less-efficient processes.
From an educational standpoint, the TCT Show offers a vast range of seminars covering the use of 3D printing and additive manufacturing within a number of different applications – perfect for a novice like myself to gain a better understanding of their potential in the areas of design, development and production.
Located at the NEC in Birmingham, 2017’s TCT Show ran from the 26th to the 28th September and hosted over 300 exhibiting companies from all corners of the additive manufacturing industry.
Walking the Floor:
Making my way around the TCT Show, I was struck by the lively atmosphere and the eye-catching aesthetics. The very nature of the event allows for some impressive visual displays, with an array of 3D-printed components on show for visitors to better understand the scope of what is achievable.
In this respect, I’m not ashamed to admit that the TCT Show blew me away, as the samples showcased completely exceeded what I thought to be possible. One company that really grabbed my attention was central London-based Digits2Widgets, who specialise in 3D printing, 3D scanning and 3D CAD. I spoke with their 3D scanning specialist, Fred Hair, who offered some very tactile examples of what 3D printing has to offer, including flexible structures and ‘fabrics’ that were printed entirely in one piece. Indeed, when you are holding such a design in your hands, it’s hard to comprehend how this was facilitated; nonetheless, it illustrates the enormity in the potential applications – even extending as far as the fashion industry, which could be revolutionised by the use of such textiles.
Of course, it’s not just 3D printing and additive manufacturing suppliers themselves that are represented at the TCT Show, but also companies offering solutions aimed at improving such processes for both the vendor and the end user. I had a chat with Charlotte Staley from Sievgen Ltd, who was able to show me their range of powder handling machinery. Designed to increase efficiency within additive manufacturing, their sieving equipment comes in a variety of different specifications – from manual to fully-automated – in order to accommodate production facilities of all sizes. The TCT Show has clearly catered for those who themselves operate within the 3D printing and additive manufacturing realm, as well as the buyers of such products.
Seminars and Additive Manufacturing in the Medical Sector:
Wednesday’s seminars had a heavy orientation towards the medical and dental industries, with a number of experts exploring the use of 3D printing within their respective fields. Having spent the first sixteen years of my life wanting to become a doctor (before I realised that a complete incompetence in chemistry - as well as a slight uneasiness at the sight of blood - meant that I probably wasn’t destined to make it to medical school), this is a fascinating field for me and I was looking forward to understanding how additive-manufactured components were shaping the future of the healthcare sphere.
The first seminar I attended was given by Raj Nair from Lakeshore Dental, who talked about 3D printing integration in dentistry. As well as being used to produce the likes of emergency dentures, 3D printing is also enabling advancements within dental procedures such as root canal surgery. The use of cone beam CT scans allow intricate impressions of the patient’s mouth to be built, which are then converted into STL files and inverted, before finally being 3D printed. The printed models mean that dentists can practice the procedure on the patient’s mouth before surgery, resulting in less pain and discomfort on the day. What’s more, the patient’s canals can be measured so that less of the tooth is cut away.
Next up was ‘3D Printing and Innovation in Healthcare’, presented by the CEO of Medisieve, George Frodsham. I found his talk to be particularly engaging, as it illustrated the breadth of potential for 3D printed items within the medical sector, with a particular focus on the hospital environment and day-to-day healthcare practices. Surgeons of the future could use 3D printed scalpels and clamps to perform operations – in fact, the entire itinerary of disposable instruments could be printed the night before surgery and sterilised to specification. Another possible application, George explained, is within artificial life support systems; components such as cannulas and pipes could be 3D printed accordingly and discarded when no longer required. This all fits in with George’s vision of hospitals in years to come, in which commonly-used medical devices have been streamlined through the use of additive manufacturing, resulting in a totally redesigned and efficiency-centric environment which is tantamount to improved patient recovery.
Lastly, I rounded off the day by attending Achala de Mel’s seminar on the applications of additive manufacturing within the fields of tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. She surmised that 3D printing provides far more instantaneous results than conventional methods of manufacture and allows for a more fluid design process, in which multiple changes can be made within a short space of time. This makes it a preferable production technique for the likes of facial prosthetics, stents, splints and bespoke wound-healing patches that mimic the different layers of the wound itself.
Should I visit the TCT Show 2018?
I highly encourage anybody involved in the manufacturing sector – whether a direct user of additive manufacturing and 3D printing processes or not – to consider attending the TCT Show in 2018. There’s no argument that these methods are becoming more and more prominent and even from a purely educational perspective, the TCT Show will allow you to see firsthand what they are able to achieve.
Additive manufacturing and 3D printing companies that are looking to showcase their capabilities – and perhaps add a few new companies to their customer portfolio – may also want to consider exhibiting at the TCT Show next year. Owing to the abundance of visitors, it’s a great place to raise brand awareness amongst a targeted audience of purchasers, as well as those that are exploring the possibility of adopting these processes as a core method of manufacture.
The TCT Show will run from the 25th to the 27th September 2018. For more information, please visit www.tctshow.com.