DEARBORN, Mich., June 17, 2009 — With companies around the country slashing business travel expenses and turning to teleconferencing, two recent events still managed to draw more than 1,300 attendees from around the country.
Attendees filled the exhibit hall and conference sessions with energy and enthusiasm at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers' (SME) RAPID 2009 Conference & Exposition and 3D IMAGING Conference, which took place May 12-14 in Schaumburg, Ill.
For a number of years, these unique conferences have showcased what's now, what's new and what's next in rapid manufacturing (also known as additive manufacturing) and 3-D imaging. These two advanced manufacturing processes are literally shaping the future of new product development in such key industries as medical devices, architectural design and even in Hollywood.
"Even in the midst of a depressed economy, you could feel the buzz in the air fueled by a passion for innovation," says Todd Grimm, chair of SME's Rapid Technologies & Additive Manufacturing Community. "People came to make changes to the way they do business and come out of this recession strong."
Feedback indicates that attendees found solutions, ideas and contacts at this year's events and, according to survey results, there was a high level of satisfaction with the conferences, keynote speakers, exhibitors and networking reception.
Many were there to address speed-to-market issues. One participant stated that the most important reason for learning new rapid manufacturing techniques/technologies is "to stay ahead of competition and speed up the product development cycle."
The events were made possible by the support of EOS, the presenting sponsor; Z Corporation, the keynote supporting sponsor; and Stratasys, the reception supporting sponsor.
Attendees engaged in discussions with the founders of the rapid manufacturing and 3-D imaging processes — Marc Soucy, InnovMetric Software; Ping Fu, PhD, GEOMagic; Chuck Hull, 3D Systems Corporation; and Carl Deckard, PhD, retired.
"How many times do you get to rub shoulders with the people who actually invented or revolutionized additive manufacturing? We are honored to have had them share their vision and passion for innovation with us," adds Grimm.
Mike North, PhD, the former co-host of Discovery Channel's "Prototype This," delivered a dynamic keynote address that talked about working through the toughest invention challenges. And one attendee commented that "North was one of the best keynote speakers in recent memory."
Additionally, this year's RAPID event brought new technical sessions that focused on rapid implant manufacturing (coordinated with Materialise), metalcasting (with the support of the American Foundry Society) and architecture.
"We designed these new sessions around the goal of giving attendees ideas which go beyond the usual design and manufacturing engineering discussions," says Gary Mikola, SME show manager.
Attendees, however, weren't the only ones who found value in the events. More than 80 percent of exhibitors surveyed feel the events are valuable elements to their marketing strategy and a slightly higher percentage noted that they gathered good sales leads or prospects.
"I think it's a good sign that the economy's on the mend when we have exhibitors walking away with the phone numbers of decision-makers ready to buy," says Grimm.
Next Generation of Engineers
While much of the conference and exposition were devoted to keeping today's manufacturing professionals up-to-date on new technologies, RAPID's annual Bright Minds Mentor Program continues to inspire the next generation of engineers. For the past six years, the program has paired hundreds of high school students with manufacturing professionals to encourage greater interest in engineering and advanced manufacturing.
This year, more than 45 students from various Chicago-area high schools and vocational schools participated in the program. They began their day with presentations from noted rapid technologies expert Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Associates. Later, the students were exposed to the entire process of direct digital manufacturing (DDM), from reverse engineering to CAD design to rapid manufacturing.
Thanks to the support of Stratasys and Z Corporation, some qualified students and their schools were given the opportunity to work on donated machines, while all students went home with design software generously donated by SolidWorks.
The next generation of engineers also included college students who participated in the annual design for direct digital manufacturing or DDM Competition. Coordinated and judged by the RTAM's DDM Tech Group, students from the Georgia Institute of Technology submitted the winning design — a customized golf club with integrated sensors. All of the winning designs were built as DDM parts and then put on display during the event.
"We're confident the attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and students left the event with valuable information and resources, contacts and, above all, enthusiasm for technologies that can set them up for success when the economy recovers," adds Grimm.
RAPID 2010 Conference & Exposition and 3D IMAGING Conference
For the first time, the RAPID Conference & Exposition and 3D IMAGING Conference will be held on the West Coast as part of a strategy to attract new audiences and expand the market. The 2010 event will target applications of the technology in aerospace/defense, entertainment (films and gaming) and sports equipment. Nearly all the 2009 exhibitors plan to exhibit at next year's event scheduled May 18-20, 2010, in Anaheim, Calif., and anticipate there will be many more new prospects.
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The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) is the premier source for manufacturing knowledge, education and networking. Through its many programs, events and activities, SME connects manufacturing practitioners to each other, to the latest technology and the most up-to-date processes spanning all manufacturing industries and disciplines, plus the key areas of aerospace and defense, medical device, motor vehicles, including motorsports, and oil and gas. A 501(c)3 organization, SME has members in more than 70 countries and is supported by a network of technical communities and chapters worldwide.
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