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RAPID + TCT emphasizes how additive manufacturing will expand

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media

There was excitement—and crowds—at the 30th edition of the RAPID + TCT show, held Sept. 13-15, 2021, at McCormick Place, Chicago. In this year of transition from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 6,000 participants attended, both in-person and virtually through the RAPID + TCT Live Digital Experience.

Visitors and delegates connected with more than 265 exhibiting companies.

RAPID + TCT highlights new 3D printers and materials and includes an educational program focused on industry trends. This year’s event signaled a new wave of users, with 35 percent of the audience being new to adopting additive manufacturing technologies. The event featured the latest in 3D-printing technology from product and service providers, a full schedule of speakers, including three keynote presentations and 11 thought-leadership panels.

“RAPID + TCT 2021 was a success on many levels,” said SME Executive Director and CEO Robert Willig. “Having met incredible logistical challenges over the last 18 months, our team put in tremendous work to ensure this event would exceed the expectations of exhibitors, sponsors, delegates and attendees. The speakers, educational sessions and products that were on display at RAPID + TCT were of the highest quality. We welcomed more than 1,000 first-time attendees to the event as we reconvened the community, in-person. We look forward to experiencing the next level of innovation in Detroit in 2022.”

For the first time, RAPID + TCT Live Digital Experience livestreamed all keynotes and thought-leadership panels. Visitors and delegates connected with more than 265 exhibiting companies as well.

The RAPID + TCT 2021 conference featured three AM tracks and one medical AM track focused on evaluation, adoption and optimization. Presentations were delivered by AM and medical AM experts from industry, government and academia. More than 850 conference delegates attended.

RAPID + TCT featured a full schedule of speakers.

Dr. Melissa Orme, vice president of additive manufacturing at The Boeing Co., Chicago, was the first keynote speaker. Orme discussed the challenges and opportunities on the horizon for the AM industry—including scale, product differentiation, Industry 4.0, industrialization and people and training.

Also on the first day, conference organizers announced David K. Leigh, PhD, CTO for Additive Manufacturing at 3D Systems Inc., as the winner of SME’s AM Industry Achievement Award. Established in 2008, the award was developed by SME’s AM Community to recognize an individual, team or company for outstanding accomplishments that have had significant impact within AM, or in any industry through the application of AM technologies. Leigh was recognized for building successful cultures and systems at printing service houses and founding companies that broadened the market and audience for AM technology. The full list of winners of the 2021 Additive Manufacturing Community Awards can be found on the RAPID + TCT website.

The show’s second keynote speaker, Terry Wohlers, principal of Wohlers Associates, Fort Collins, Colo., focused his address on industry expansion, innovation, competition, and the pandemic. Mark Wehde, chair of Mayo Clinic Engineering, Rochester, Minn., delivered the final keynote address, discussing the myriad ways technology is changing healthcare—including the advancing role of AM, AI, machine learning, AR/VR, robotics, analytics and more.

Show exhibitors included 3D Systems, Desktop Metal, EOS, Markforged, SLM Solutions, Materalise, and Stratasys, among others. Representatives from many industries attended RAPID + TCT 2021, including automotive, aerospace and defense, electronics, industrial and commercial, machinery, medical/surgical/dental, research and development, consumer products and consulting/engineering.

The event also included the SME Education Foundation Student Summit, which provided high school students with an introduction to manufacturing. More than 150 students from 10 U.S. schools participated in the program, which included a keynote address from Jesse Roitenberg, America education manager at Stratasys, and guest speaker Sarah Rimini, program director of Radiology’s 3D Lab at Geisinger. Students also joined in on a hands-on autonomous vehicle competition that focused on STEM learning.

Rapid evolution

Companies involved in RAPID + TCT showed the many ways that AM is evolving. A few examples:

3D Systems described its plans for Oqton, a software company it has agreed to acquire. Rock Hill, S.C.-based 3D Systems intends to have Oqton operate separately. 3D Systems will have access to Oqton software advances, but the software company will maintain ties with others in additive.

More than 6,000 participants attended RAPID + TCT, either in-person or virtually.

Stratasys Ltd.’s booth reflected how the company opted to concentrate on printing polymers. “We made the decision to double down on polymers for manufacturing applications,” said Rich Garrity, president of the Americas at Stratasys. “We put metal [printing] off to the side.”

One display emphasized Stratasys’ printing in the medical field. The display was based on the old “Operation” board game where players tried to remove toy body parts without causing the board to buzz. The Stratasys display had an illustration of a “patient” similar to the board game, but with a variety of 3D-printed organs and parts, including a replica of an eyeball.

Medical is a key market for AM. Stratasys has been involved in printing that can mimic human body parts for planning surgeries. “You’ve got to pick a path,” Garrity said. “For us, polymers made the most sense.”

Open Mind Technologies USA displayed its HyperMILL software and how it can be used in AM applications. Open Mind’s business primarily is with traditional manufacturing, such as milling and turning. But the company wanted to have a presence in additive. “Some of our customers are working both ends of the street,” said Alan Levine, managing director of Open Mind. “In some cases, it will be the future.”

AM has a solid future

There was certainty that additive manufacturing will keep expanding. The question is how. There were various answers. Players in 3D printing are deciding what they do best so they can concentrate on that. They’re also looking to improve additive’s “repeatability and reliability,” in the words of Boeing’s Orme. “We want additive manufacturing to become a standard, viable option to achieve different products,” Orme said during her keynote address. To at least some extent, that means proceeding without a safety net, she said. “You have to let go of the traditional manufacturing solution,” said Orme. “We need to do our homework to make sure we get there.”

“It becomes overwhelming,” said Todd Grimm, president of T.A. Grimm & Associates, an industry consultant. He described AM as being on “a slope of enlightenment” as it evolves based on R&D.

“We call it the slow revolution,” said Bryan Crutchfield, vice president and general manager-North America for software company Materialise. “People want to push the easy button. There is no easy button.” Achieving reliability and repeatability “takes time,” he said.

Orme, in her keynote, summed up the state of additive. “We have to keep our minds open for what’s next,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to do.”

RAPID + TCT 2022 will take place May 17-19, 2022, at the TCF Center in Detroit. For more information, visit

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