The additive manufacturing industry’s flagship event, the TCT Show, returned to the NEC in Birmingham this week. Taking place from the 24th to the 26th September, the TCT Show is a long-established hub for AM innovation - something which is especially prudent in line with the unprecedented boom amongst the adoption of these technologies.
With a number of product launches and live demonstrations taking place, this year’s TCT Show promised to provide an exciting, yet informative look into the world of additive manufacturing and its growing list of current and potential applications. Encompassing all manner of AM-related products and services, there is something for everyone at the TCT Show, from complete beginners through to seasoned users of these processes.
TCT Show 2019 Overview:
From stand to stand, there are hundreds of 3D printed components to see and touch.
The start of the show coincided with a bout of torrential rain - something that I’m sure had worried a few exhibitors in regards to the turnout. However, it was clear upon arrival that the weather hadn’t hampered visitor numbers, with the hall brimming in activity within half an hour of the doors first opening. The visitors ranged from industry professionals through to school children, who were in attendance largely due to TCT’s Inspired Minds classroom - an interactive experience aimed at educating and inspiring the next generation to consider a career in additive manufacturing.
I have always really enjoyed the TCT Show for its tangibility - from stand to stand, there are hundreds of 3D printed components to see and touch, providing unrivalled insight into the possibilities brought about by advancements in AM technology. Elsewhere, 3D printers are set up to demonstrate the various additive manufacturing operations in real time, with visitors able to see for themselves exactly how AM parts are made. I myself am certainly no expert when it comes to additive manufacturing, yet I can safely say that my last three years at the show have opened my eyes to the breadth of its capabilities.
Walking around the hall, it was clear that this year was no different. From a beautiful 3D printed model of the Neasden Temple, to a 3D printed met gala dress on Protolab’s stand, there was a lot of impressive displays to admire. Many of the exhibitors were actively engaged in conversations with curious visitors, whilst the various seminars taking place commanded a large audience.
I stopped to speak with Sadie from Prototype Projects Ltd - 3D printing and additive manufacturing specialists encompassing SLS, SLA, FDM, PolyJet and Figure 4. In addition, Prototype Projects also offer finishing processes including dyeing and texturing services, as well as CNC machining, vacuum casting and laser etching.
‘We’ve exhibited at the TCT Show before,’ Sadie told me. ‘We’ve found it really good so far - there’s a lot of visitors and we’re hoping that this will continue in the days to come.
‘We’ve found that it’s a really good show for increasing brand awareness and extending our reach - we want to get our name out there and make even more people aware of us and what we offer.’
It wasn’t just returning exhibitors who were impressed with the show. TCT newcomers Complete Fabrication were also enjoying a steady stream of footfall to their stand. Showcasing an impressive range of their components, Cambridge-based Complete Fabrication are industrial modelmakers and prototypers who take CAD designs and turn them into working prototypes for their clients. I spoke with managing director Sebastian Stanley, who was enjoying a positive experience at their first TCT Show.
‘So far, it’s been very encouraging,’ Sebastian said. ‘I think we’re slightly different to some of the other exhibitors and we’ve had a lot of interest, so we’re optimistic about what we’ll get out of the show.
‘Due to our locality, we’re heavily involved in the medical industry, but that’s not all that we do. We’re hoping to speak with visitors from a range of industries - if we can find new customers for carbon 3D and they’re outside of our normal remit, that would be fantastic.’
Finally, I stopped to have a chat with Zach Reagan from Adaptive3D. Adaptive3D specialises in 3D printing the world’s softest, toughest rubber, giving them a niche that lends itself to a variety of applications, from motorcycle helmets and impact resistance through to medical. Their eye-catching stand was adorned with display cases containing a variety of intricate components, but as I found out from Zach, getting them to the show had not been plain sailing.
It’s incredibly important for the UK’s manufacturing industry to be celebrated and advertised if it is to thrive - the TCT Show does this remarkably well.
‘My luggage was delayed, so we spent the first two or three hours without the parts!’ he told me. ‘That didn’t help anything, but since then it’s really picked up.
‘The display cases are great - a lot of people expect the components to be rigid and they’re really surprised to find out that they’re soft. It catches a lot of people’s attention.’
And what about Adapt3D’s aims at the TCT Show?
‘We’re really looking to keep the hype up - a lot of our product portfolio is based around new, innovative materials and we want to make more people aware of their capabilities and what we offer.’
It was clear from the conversations I had that exhibitors regard the TCT Show as an important opportunity to connect with potential customers, as well as other manufacturers from the additive manufacturing sphere. It’s great to see this legacy carried forward into another successful year for the show, which seems to grow in popularity with every event - a well-deserved accolade given its inclusivity for educational experiences as well as networking. It’s incredibly important for the UK’s manufacturing industry to be celebrated and advertised if it is to thrive - the TCT Show does this remarkably well, whilst also maintaining the traditional offerings of an industry event.
It’s not just the younger generations that the TCT Show aims to educate. The TCT Summit stage delivered a range of talks from additive manufacturing experts throughout the entirety of the event. These seminars presented the opportunities and challenges faced by additive manufacturing within a variety of applications, including medical, aerospace, automotive and rail. I was fortunate enough to attend three conferences during my time at the TCT Show, which provided unparalleled insight into the advancements in AM technology.
UK Taking To Space With 3D Printed Rocket Engines - Oleg Dmitriev - Head of Technical Operations at Skyrora:
The first seminar on my agenda was given by Oleg Dmitriev from UK-based rocket designer & manufacturer Skyrora. Oleg explained to his audience that the demand for satellite launch is growing beyond the capabilities of current rocket launch technology, meaning that companies often have to piggyback off of other launches to get their satellites into orbit. This comes with a myriad of problems - not least that there is no guarantee for the most efficient orbit to be achieved. In order to keep up with demand, it is essential that the speed and cost of rocket manufacture is reduced, which is where additive manufacturing comes into play. Skyrora has been able to make a 75% cost reduction by 3D printing rocket components, with the part count per engine being reduced from 50 to 10 and the number of operations required reduced from 23 to just 5. This - Oleg explained - is an example of the affordable and innovative ‘new space’ era, which will make satellite launch much more accessible.
Driving Innovation In The Automotive Industry With AM Technologies - Arash Farboud - CEO at Arash Motor Company:
Arash Farboud enjoyed a spectacular turnout for his seminar on additive manufacturing within the automotive sector. As CEO of supercar manufacturer Arash Motor Company, Arash understands better than anyone the need to deliver a high quality product at a lower cost. With the move from petrol to electric engines, Arash Motor Company have also been looking at other ways to challenge the status quo, resulting in the purchase of a Rep 2 and a Z18 3D printer. Using AM technology, Arash explained that they have been able to build to consumption instead of relying on overseas manufacturers. This has seen the speed of producing prototypes reduced from three years down to just 12 months, with a number of cost savings also being made along the way.
Development Of An Additive Remanufacturing Process For End-Of-Life Composite Material - Andrea Mantelli - Research Fellow at The Polytechnic University of Milan:
Andrea Mantelli’s seminar addressed a current hot topic, which is the recycling and remanufacturing of composite materials. Composite materials are particularly difficult to recycle due to their dual properties, whilst also remaining an incredibly popular material option within a number of applications; therefore, it’s extremely important that remanufacturing techniques are developed to make composites as environmentally-friendly as possible. By experimenting with the mixing of acrylic resins and active dilutant in different proportions, as well as developing an optimised curing process, Andrea explained that they were able to 3D print recycled composites with comparable mechanical properties to 3D printed materials that use virgin glass fibre. What’s more, complex shapes can also be achieved, bringing a wealth of manufacturing potential to the likes of end-of-life wind turbine blades.
TCT Show 2020 - Worth Visiting?:
TCT Show is perhaps one of the most engaging events within the engineering & manufacturing industry’s calendar.
For those already working within the additive manufacturing sphere, as well as those who are considering the use of AM processes within their organisations, the TCT Show really is a worthwhile event. By bringing together all aspects of AM services and technology under one roof - as well as the opportunity to hear from pioneers of groundbreaking AM developments within their respective fields - the TCT Show has created a one-stop shop for anyone who is curious about the potential for additive manufacturing.
With so much to see and plenty of live demonstrations, the TCT Show is perhaps one of the most engaging events within the engineering & manufacturing industry’s calendar. For professionals and hobbyists alike, this really is the place to discover the latest innovations within AM technology, as well as to form new business connections with those within the field.
Next year’s TCT Show will take place from 29th September to 1st October 2020. For more information, please visit www.tctshow.com.