This year, SLM Solutions Group will be exhibiting or participating in over 200 trade shows and events around the world. Having attended many metal additive manufacturing (AM) events for nearly 20 years, I have had the privilege to watch many of these events grow from small, specialized 3D printing conferences to large, multi-faceted shows with broad appeal.
Over the years, it has been interesting to note who attends, what questions they ask, or to learn why the shows even exist.
It is easy to grow weary of the steady stream of shows, popping up in city after city. But a few years ago, I really began to appreciate the value of these events as a barometer to gauge the greater industry as a whole.
It’s always nice to see old friends and frenemies, but personally the barometers for me are who at the OEMs and suppliers are at the show and what are they talking about.
This year, I have identified two strong trends.
First, I met many design engineers walking the floor at the big trade shows. Year over year, there has been a steady increase in the number of designers directly involved in AM, but this year the trickle turned into an all-out flood.
The days where an OEM just sends its “AM expert” to the main shows is long gone, being replaced by the “AM group” and more.
It seemed every few minutes, along came another design engineer who wanted to really understand and become involved in the metal AM industry—not because they were becoming part of the “AM group” but because AM was becoming part of them.
The frequency and depth of conversations increased dramatically over previous years, indicating significant additional momentum moving from emerging technology toward mainstream adoption.
The real advantage of metal AM in the aerospace industry is not in replicating existing designs but in designing new components and consolidated assemblies that take advantage of the relative design freedom provided.
If design engineers know how to design for additive, understand its limitations and advantages, our industry can progress at the rapid pace that everyone anticipates.
And here they were, proactively seeking knowledge.
The second exciting trend was the number of established Tier 2 and Tier 3 aerospace suppliers in attendance for whom metal AM is now on the horizon and clearly coming.
The OEMs have been around for years. Startups and visionaries likewise.
But the established Tier 2 and 3 suppliers, who are casting, forging, machining, molding and welding, have not been particularly present.
These are the companies that have been supplying the aerospace industry for decades. They have seen new technologies flare up and die down. They have seen startups rise and fall. And they have stuck with existing technologies and found ways to continuously improve, making high quality components affordably.
This year, like the design engineers, these folks were on the show floor, asking questions, getting involved, and recognizing that metal AM is coming to disrupt and energize their business.
I found that talking and engaging with these two groups has been tremendously interesting and inspiring.
Seeing these groups start to embrace metal AM while investing their time and energy into it has been a long-anticipated milestone in the journey from lab curiosity to standard manufacturing technique. No change is overnight, and no trend is a singular event. But, after two decades of going to these events, this year has been unexpectedly invigorating.