Prepare for the storm by building plans, getting resources aligned, and setting realistic expectations.

Manufacturing Blog: How to Ride the Wave of Additive Manufacturing News

Sep 14, 2021

by Todd Grimm

It’s been a long journey, but this fall, the additive manufacturing community will finally see a return to live events. Tradeshows and conferences are a perennial destination for those who want to see new additive manufacturing solutions and those who wish to reveal their latest products.
 
Considering the status quo of the past 17 months, the release of the pent-up demand to see and to show additive manufacturing solutions will be uncorked when we enter the doors of RAPID + TCT in Chicago, Formnext in Frankfurt, and other trade shows coming back from hiatus. And I believe that the uncorking will release a tsunami of new product releases.
 
While the flow of additive news has remained vigorous over the past 17 months, careful inspection reveals that it ebbed a bit and that the storylines skewed toward business (especially mergers and acquisitions) and applications. With a return to in-person events, the tide will turn, and there ought to be a massive wave of new solutions introduced across all categories: hardware, software, and materials.

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I am writing this post to celebrate the re-ignition of the additive manufacturing spark and to offer cautionary advice. For you see, the words of futurist John Naisbitt, “We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge,” encapsulates the world of additive manufacturing well. That sentiment represents the past and present of additive manufacturing, and that observation also predicts what will occur when trade show doors open.
 
My advice? Prepare for the storm by building plans, getting resources aligned, and setting realistic expectations. September won’t be a time to hunker down and batten down the hatches. Instead, you should gear up for a battle with the elements. Following are some bits of advice to keep your boat afloat.
 
First, strive to absorb as much as possible but do not allow FOMO (fear of missing out) to instill anxiety or prompt hasty actions. Spend more time investigating the things you believe are important now rather than racing through the show floor to see everything. Worthwhile solutions won’t sink into the murky depths; they will be visible for a long time to come. If you overlook them in the fall of 2021, they will be there for you to discover in the months to come.
 
The added benefit of future discovery and investigation is that others will have taken the new product through a “shake-down cruise.” I have long been a proponent of a strategy to wait a year or two before considering a new solution if your company has any risk aversion.
 
Second, gather information using the bucket-list strategy. This approach happens to be my strategy to maintain sanity amidst a constant barrage of claims of new and improved, innovative, best in class, and game-changing. As you see a new product, drop that information into one of three buckets: not interested, future investigation, or present solution. Then spend most of your time investigating and evaluating the items in the present-solutions bucket.  

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Items in this bucket are those that address your near-term needs, are commercially available, and are somehow differentiated from all others. Essentially, this bucket holds everything that appears to be a real solution that addresses near-term challenges or opportunities.
 
The future investigations bucket holds the items that you deem to be a bit premature for your needs. Essentially, this bucket contains the items that may be relevant for future additive manufacturing initiatives and those that aren’t viewed as stable in a commercial context. For this bucket, be wary of the statements that a solution is being “announced” or ”launched.” These may be code words for new products that are still in their pre-commercialization stages.
 
That last bucket—not interested—is where you place the plethora of undifferentiated “me-too” products and those that don’t apply to your additive manufacturing needs, wants, and desires.
 
The third recommendation is to divide and conquer. There is simply no way that one person can see, hear, and experience all that applies to their company over a three-day visit to a trade show and conference. So, I recommend that you send two or more people.

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Simple math proves this point. Let’s say that one-third of the exhibitors have solutions that may apply to your needs. Over three days, this provides you only 10 minutes per booth if you abstain from networking (bad idea) and participation in the free conference sessions (a missed opportunity). As a lone member of an expeditionary force, you will be racing through the show, just scratching the surface in a quantity-over-quality operating mode.
 
The final recommendation is to treat additive manufacturing shows as a discovery opportunity, not decision-making events. You should plan for a return from an event with your three buckets of solutions, which is then followed by a lengthy investigation and evaluation phase.
 
Discovery should not be immediately followed by a purchase.
 
For those that won’t be attending these events, the recommendations still apply. There will be a massive wave of news sweeping through your digital feeds. And the pent-up energy won’t dissipate over a few days.
 
Whether you are attending trade shows this fall or not, planning and proper execution will lift you up on the crest of the coming wave. Keep your head above water and enjoy the ride.
 
Todd Grimm is president of T. A. Grimm & Associates, an additive manufacturing consulting and communications company, and a 30-year industry veteran.

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