RAPID + TCT 2021: Thoughts and Takeaways

This year’s Rapid + TCT celebrated the show’s 30th anniversary by hosting more than 250 exhibitors plus 20 panels, presentations, and keynote speeches. According to Terry Wohlers of Wohlers Associates, the AM market grew to $12.8B in 2020, a 7.5% increase from 2019, but still only comprises just 0.1% of the world manufacturing economy. Conversation starters and hot topics included:

· The SPAC IPO boom. More than a dozen AM IPOs in the last year.

· The possibilities that come with technology maturity – and the hurdles that still must be overcome.

· The silver-lining that was Covid-19.

The SPAC IPO boom.

Many of us learned a new acronym in 2020: SPAC. A SPAC – special purpose acquisition company – is a shell corporation listed on a stock exchange with the purpose of acquiring a private company, making it public without going through the traditional IPO process. AM retains significant potential for further growth, and SPAC managers are looking for companies that have solid long-term growth prospects, making the two a perfect fit.

A record 248 SPAC IPOs took place in the U.S. alone during 2020. Figures for this year have already beaten that record, with 296 SPACs in the first quarter of 2021. Investment in AM companies accounted for nearly $11 billion worth of these transactions.

The possibilities that come with technology maturity.

We’re continuing to see the small, incremental improvements that come with the advancement of known processes. Yet users still spoke about the typical challenges the industry faces, including machine pricing, machine speed, understanding of design for AM, adoption of standards, and workforce development. Perhaps we’ve reached a point where everyday improvements overtake the “brand-new” or “latest and greatest” announcements.

The silver-lining that was Covid-19.

A general theme among conversation was in finding opportunity in crisis and the uplifting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. All industries felt the Covid-era supply chain chaos. Additive was able to provide a relief valve.

“I mean, even getting lumber, getting windows for your house, or toilet paper, or driving by a car lot, they’re empty. But additive still is producing parts. So that’s one of the things it’s able to do. It still shows up. Especially for the engineers who deal with long lead times in the development cycle.”

– David Leigh, CTO, 3D Systems, Rapid + TCT 2021

No big sheet reveals this year. Just practical, incremental growth, and a clear consensus on what’s still needed to tip the scales. And through the tough year that is behind us all, additive is still producing parts. It still shows up.

As always, I welcome any comments or questions at alison.wyrick@ge.com.

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