Additive manufacturing advancing towards the future in leaps and bounds

Over 2,500 guests learned about future developments in industrial 3D printing at the 18th Rapid.Tech 3D conference and trade fair.

Over 2,500 people attended the 18th Rapid.Tech 3D conference and trade fair, which took place in Erfurt between 17 and 19 May 2022. They heard about new products and services in additive manufacturing (AM) from 97 exhibitors representing 11 countries. 13 of the exhibitors in Thuringia came from outside Germany, including companies from the USA, Great Britain, Austria and Switzerland. Visitors were delighted with the conference programme, and delegate numbers were higher than at the last live conference in 2019.

The inspiring programme for the last day of the event opened with a trailblazing keynote speech by Bernhard Randerath, highlighting a practical avenue for sustainable structural transformation. The Managing Director of the German Emirati Institute (GEI) invited his audience to imagine the CO2-free factory of the future, where additive manufacturing (AM) played a key role in the production of interiors for all kinds of vehicles. The concept is based on the fact that interiors – whether for cars, trains, planes or boats –all have similar designs and similarly constructed components. 3D printing can exploit synergies in parts production for different modes of transport, and deliver new designs and functionalities. From individual components to 3D-printed cabins, it can cover the entire product spectrum – quickly, flexibly and without the need for tools.

The factory for the vehicle interiors of the future is being developed jointly by Germany and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and forms part of wide-ranging technological collaboration between the two states. The factory will be built in one of Germany’s structural transformation zone, with locations under consideration including three in North Rhine-Westphalia, one in Brandenburg and one in Saxony. The factory is scheduled to start operations in 2025.

Speed and simplification were also the themes of the second keynote. Alexander Oster of Autodesk presented Machine Control Framework, open-source software that enables different hardware components to be combined quickly and easily in a finished SLM system, instantly producing product-quality metal and plastic components. The framework, which was the result of collaboration between Autodesk and Scanlab, allows every development organisation to integrate finished components rapidly into complete additive manufacturing systems – at a fraction of the usual cost.

As well as learning about the almost unlimited potential of additive manufacturing from the keynotes and specialist conference forums, visitors were able to experience them first-hand at the exhibitor stands. The hands-on experience provided by Swiss start-up Spectroplast was especially important, because you have to touch their 3D-printed silicone medical products to appreciate what a remarkable accomplishment they are. The young founders’ expertise in materials and processes has enabled them to achieve silicone printing of unprecedented quality.

Another popular exhibit was the mobile machine from 1A Technologies. The young company from Saxony claims to have produced the first 3D-printed machine tool that combines additive and subtractive processing. At 45 kilograms, it is around half the weight of its metal-bodied counterparts.

Exhibitors almost unanimously reported that they had welcomed large numbers of sector experts, often with highly specific questions – representing all types of operation, from large corporations to very small businesses.

The next Rapid.Tech 3D will be held in Erfurt from 9 to 11 May 2023.