When a small AM-centric show replaced the twenty-year-old Euromold at Messe Frankfurt in 2015, not many could have imagined that it would rapidly grow to become the global reference show for the AM industry. Instead of AM being a small sector of manufacturing, Formnext proposed AM to be a core element that drives the manufacturing industry.
It was a bet and it has paid dividends. The Formnext 2018 edition, scheduled to be held in Frankfurt from 13 to 16 November, continues on the road to success with impressive growth year on year. The number of exhibitors registered for this edition has increased by 60% compared to the same period of the previous year. The number of reserved spaces also increased by 54%, as of last June 1st, and they more have already been reserved since.
In total, over 153 new exhibitors from 25 countries have already registered, including renowned international companies such as Clariant, Mitsubishi Chemicals and Solvay. World-renowned start-up Carbon will be present this year to present its production-ready technology. In addition, big news are already in the works for the 2019 edition, where the move to Hall 11 and the newly built Hall 12 will bring the available exhibition space to over 65,000 square meters.
We caught up with Sascha Wenzler, Vice President for Formnext at Mesago, (the company that organizes the event), during the event’s presentation in Milan, to learn about the most important news to expect next November and how they will shape our business for the year.
Davide Sher: Formnext has shown remarkable growth. How do you explain these results?
Sascha Wenzler: “Additive manufacturing is a new technology and I personally think that one of the best advantages for us is that we started in the right moment. Formnext embraced additive manufacturing as it began to grow out of being just something to make prototypes or toys in a garage and began the transition to becoming so much more. Now we are seeing large global manufacturers applying additive technologies, even for actual production of final industrial goods. I think more and more of them will continue to discover the advantages that AM can offer to their businesses. They are now increasingly clear in several places and applications.”
DS: Can you provide some additional numbers to certify this growth?
SW: “More companies are coming to Formnext and this reflects the growth of the AM industry along with growing interest from the overall manufacturing industry. In 2015 we had 203 exhibitors: this year we are looking at more than 500. That’s an impressive growth, in such a short period of time. In addition, we are expanding the exhibition space: this year we will be fully booked in Hall 3, which measures about 36,000 square meters across. Next year we’ll move to a new “home” in the newly built Hall 12, which, in combination with Hall 11, will give us access to as much as 65,000 square meters of exhibition space. Visitor attendance has also increased exponentially: from 2016 to 2017 we had an increase of sixty percent in visitors and for this year we expect to grow again with more than 25,000 visitors from all over the world. That’s perfect and a really good showcase for additive manufacturing.”
DS: Can you give us an idea of which segments are showing the most growth? How do you view increased interest from material manufacturers and software publishers?
SW: This question requires a long answer but, to sum it up, it’s certainly a combination of segments and not just additive manufacturers alone. In terms of 3D printing hardware manufacturers, we now have a market coverage of around 95% to 98%. There are a lot of new companies coming in, nearly every week, and there are many startup companies that enter the market, which is fine for such an innovative industry. However, we must keep in mind that the entire process is important, so what we see is that a lot of new companies are coming from the design and software sectors, while the most growth for this year is going to be from material manufacturers. Many large material groups are going to exhibit this year, including Mitsubishi Chemicals and Solvay. This is a very positive signal for the market because they’ve laid out a strategy that focuses on having entire divisions dedicated to additive manufacturing. When these big companies enter the sector, it’s a clear sign that something important is happening and a lot is developing.”
DS: What about manufacturers of process-related and post-processing hardware, beyond additive manufacturing?
SW: “I also believe that everything concerning post-processing is very important for the entire AM community because it is now clear that it is never enough to have a product emerge from a 3D printer: in a real industrial environment you need to do a lot of post-processing for metals as well as plastics and even for new materials like composites and ceramics. Several more tooling industry manufacturers are now targeting this segment and will participate in this year’s edition.”
DS: In light of all these developments, do you think that 3D printers are going to be increasingly integrated into the end-to-end production workflow? If so, are they to be considered the “core” of the future digital production cycle?
SW: As always, it depends on how far away we look into the future. There will be some segments of manufacturing where you will indeed implement a totally digitalized additive manufacturing workflow. It makes sense for very special projects, for very small series, for very special constructions. In such cases we will be looking at fully automated industrial additive manufacturing processes. However, I am also convinced that, when we talk about actual mass production, there will certainly be room for integration of additive manufacturing in certain places but injection molding and die-casting will remain central in the production of large parts and very large part batches. On the other hand, when you will need to make a custom luxury car door – or certain other specialized car parts – it will increasingly make sense to use an AM workflow.
DS: How is Formnext currently split between metal and plastic?
SW: “We strive to keep it balanced. In fact, our partners at VDMA [the powerful German manufacturing engineering association, with over 3200 members] just ran a survey that shows that roughly one third of their members that have adopted AM use metal, roughly one third of them use plastics and the rest is combining materials or adding other exotic materials like composites and ceramics. So I think that one of the basic principles of Formnext was and will be to be open to every material because a manufacturer doesn’t use only one material. Metal receives a lot of media attention because they are the “sexier” part of manufacturing. But in terms of business volumes the majority of parts is made in plastics. So we try to keep it balanced.”
DS: What about nationalities? Where are most exhibitors coming from?
SW: “Germany, as the local market, represents about 50% of all exhibitors however the international presence continues to grow. In terms of international attendance, China has the most companies and we have a large number of new companies coming from the market. Number two is the United States while number three, this year for the first time, is Italy, showing that this is a very dynamic market.”