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TCT Show Birmingham 2018 Review

Sarah Venning

If you’re involved within the additive manufacturing and 3D printing spheres, then chances are that you will have at least heard of the TCT Show, if not yet exhibited or attended. Why? Because the TCT Show is the prime event for design-to-manufacturing innovation, with an AM-centric exhibitor roster that covers technology and software right through to the subcontract supply of 3D printed prototypes.

2018’s TCT Show promised to be bigger than ever, with an expanded floor plan that included over 300 exhibitors and a visitor footfall forecast in excess of 10,000. In addition, a range of seminars took place across three different stages, exploring different applications and developments within the additive manufacturing field.

What’s more, the TCT Show offers training for secondary school-age students within its Inspired Minds classroom. It is one of the few shows that takes tangible steps towards educating future generations, whilst encouraging them to consider a career within manufacturing. Owing to the prominence of the skills gap - a problem that is only set to increase in years to come - it’s great to see an event take ownership and treat potential remedies as a priority.

TCT Show 2018 ran from the 25th to the 27th September at the NEC in Birmingham. I made my way to the event on day 2, anticipating this to be the busiest day of the three. Whilst I can’t comment on the footfall over the other two days, I can safely say that the Wednesday experienced a high turnout, bringing with it a really positive and refreshing atmosphere that was a pleasure to be a part of.

The Green Carpet Treatment

With its distinctive green colour scheme, the TCT Show plays host to all manner of companies that operate within additive manufacturing and 3D printing. From 3D printing subcontract suppliers, through to software providers and filament manufacturers, there really is a melting pot of companies inhabiting each subsection of the additive manufacturing umbrella.

One such exhibitor - Altair - provides a full simulation platform that aids designers and engineers with simulation-driven design. I stopped to have a chat with account manager Simon Stoneley, who had visited the show in 2017 and subsequently decided to exhibit at this year’s event.

‘It’s been good so far,’ Simon told me. ‘We’re looking to introduce our platform to even more designers and the TCT Show has been a good way to get in front of our target audience.’

This statement possibly holds even more credence coming from a member of Altair’s team, as the company themselves recently hosted their very own additive manufacturing event which attracted over 150 registrants.

‘We work with a number of OEMs who presented alongside us,’ Simon elaborated. ‘We’re very active when it comes to getting out into the industry and so the TCT Show holds a definite alignment for us.’

Making my way around the hall, which, due to its sheer size and colourful carpeting really does feel like walking a literal green mile, I also spoke with Andrew Jones from metal and polymer 3D printing company 3T RPD, who are no strangers to the TCT Show.

‘We’ve exhibited at TCT before, but we’re definitely very pleased with how professional the show has become,’ said Andrew. ‘It seems to have attracted some big names in recent years, which is very encouraging.’

And what about the footfall?

‘It’s been busy so far - we work with a far-reaching span of industries from aerospace through to medical and offshore, so there’s been plenty of visitors for us to speak to.’

Finally, I was keen to get the perspective of a 3D printing equipment exhibitor. Approaching the stand of 3DGBIRE, who specialise in the the distribution of 3D printers and scanners, alongside offering training and lifetime technical support, business development manager David Kerr was kind enough to give me his take on 2018’s TCT Show.

3DGBIRE has been exhibiting here for four years,’ David explained. ‘It’s a fantastic show and it’s really refreshing to speak to lots of like-minded visitors.’

‘Our presence here is really worthwhile for us and we always come away with a lot of new business.’

It seems very evident from these conversations that the TCT Show is held in high regard by its exhibitors, who generally return year after year. From a visitor’s standpoint, the TCT Show is chock full of interesting things to see, such as a vast array of 3D printers in action and tangible 3D printed components that you can study up close. What’s more, the event is home to an array of exciting product launches, meaning that you see the latest cutting-edge technology firsthand.

Conferences and Seminars

After six years of working in the manufacturing and engineering industries, I like to think that I can hold my own when it comes to discussing the likes of machining and fabrication processes. But additive manufacturing? Well, prior to last year’s TCT Show, I had little understanding as to the pure scope of possibilities that additive manufacturing opens up. 2017’s conferences were almost exclusively to thank for enlightening me to the potential applications; therefore, I was very keen to build upon this by attending more at this year’s show. Here’s a rundown of my top three favourite seminars from day two:

Life in the Fast Lane: The Thrills and Spills of Start-Ups in Manufacturing Technology - Dave Burns - Global Business Advisory Services LLP:

I kicked off the day with a talk by Dave Burns, the founder and principal of Global Business Advisory Services LLC. Dave delivered an engaging talk on the thrills and spills of start-ups in manufacturing technology, exploring the reasons behind the successes and failures of fledgling businesses. Approximately 7 to 9 out of 10 new businesses fail, explained Dave, making this an especially prudent subject that is vital to the growth of the industry. He clarified that whilst there is no individual metric for failure, it is largely due to factors such as a lack of product-to-market alignment, hiring friends and family over those with industry knowledge, and running out of cash to finance the business. Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom within the startup arena, as Dave explained that these risks can largely be avoided by listening to customers, employing people with experience and last but not least, not bringing technology to market before it is ready.

Advancements in Real-life Car Manufacturing Applications - David Storey - RPS:

Many of the seminars I attended at the TCT Show 2017 were based around the medical and dentistry spheres. Subsequently, I was keen to see how additive manufacturing could apply to other industries, making David Storey’s conference on the advancements in car manufacturing applications particularly interesting. As the director of industrial 3D printer manufacturer RPS, David has a wealth of knowledge surrounding AM technologies which he delivered to a tightly-packed audience. Along with Ben Scott from Oxford Brookes Racing (with whom RPS have partnered), he walked us through the history of 3D printing machines, taking us from the late Eighties to the present day, before explaining that automotive companies were early adopters of the technology for prototyping purposes. It surprised me to learn that the early technology is still available, although the software and materials have changed drastically. Whilst additive manufacturing in the automotive industry is currently centred around the production of high value, low volume cosmetic parts, David predicts that 3D printed structural components are just around the corner.

Addressing the Skills Gap in Additive Manufacturing - Nick Pearce - Alexander Daniels Global:

My favourite seminar of the day was delivered by Nick Pearce of Alexander Daniels Global. As a recruitment specialist within the additive manufacturing and 3D printing sector, they have tackled the talent gap head-on by creating a career growth platform to support the development of in-demand skills. i-AMdigital is an online portal that encourages career growth within emerging technologies, bringing with it a range of unique courses and perspectives. This couldn’t come soon enough, it seems, as Nick explained that whilst the industry growth rate sits at 30%, the talent growth rate lags behind at just 10%. The resulting effect is a ‘war for talent’ that leaves additive manufacturing companies fishing from a very small pool of candidates - consequently, it is vital that manufacturers consider global talent as opposed to purely national.

i-AMdigital will be launching mid-November 2018 and it is definitely worth a second look by anyone hoping to start a career within additive manufacturing and emerging technologies.

TCT Show 2019 - Worth a Visit?

No matter whether or not you currently utilise additive manufacturing services, it’s certainly eye-opening to see the scope of technology on offer, as well as what is achievable via 3D printing. The beauty of the TCT Show is that it brings everything AM-related under one roof, meaning that as well as receiving a crash course in the latest 3D printing technologies and techniques, you will also see firsthand how they can potentially streamline your current manufacturing processes.

I encourage anyone within the manufacturing sphere to attend the TCT Show in 2019. With the TCT brand having now gone global, we’re sure to see even more exciting things from what is already a more than worthwhile event.

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The TCT Show will be returning to The NEC, Birmingham from 24-26 September 2019. For more information, please visit www.tctshow.com.

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About Sarah Venning

Sarah is a sales & marketing content writer, with six years of experience within the engineering & manufacturing industry.  Working both at Qimtek and on a freelance basis, she can usually be found hammering away at a keyboard or with her head in a pile of engineering drawings. 

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