IMTS 2022 recap: my 4 takeaways
The largest manufacturing event in the Western hemisphere, IMTS (the International Manufacturing Technology Show) recently took over Chicago’s McCormick Place. With 1.3 million overall square feet of exhibition space over the massive center’s four main halls, co-located conference events like the Additive Manufacturing Conference and Hannover Messe USA, and the first integration of Formnext into the US, IMTS 2022 was a must-see industry event.
The AM Pavilion, still small in relative space, has doubled (or so) since its first appearance and in 2022 evidenced a maturing technology that has more than earned its space alongside more established manufacturing processes.
After a busy three days – of the six that encompass the full IMTS experience – on the show floor, I left IMTS 2022 with a few major takeaways. Here are my top four:
- HP’s Metal Jet Shines the Spotlight on Metal AM
- Nikon Invests Ever More Deeply into Additive
- Collaborative Events Highlight Industry Incorporation
- The Real Business Happens After Hours
HP’s Metal Jet Shines the Spotlight on Metal AM
At IMTS 2018, HP famously introduced its formal foray into metal additive manufacturing, expanding its 3D printing platform from the polymer Multi Jet Fusion (MFJ) to add Metal Jet technology. Four years on, the company unveiled the first market-ready Metal Jet system, the S100.
Previously available through service bureaus, the S100 is now itself available as a product – and one backed by strong names. The official press release, for example, names customers and collaborators including GKN, Parmatech, Cobra Golf, Legor Group, Volkswagen, Domin Digital Motion, Lumenium, and Schneider Electric.
A new, production-focused metal AM system is good news for us all. Especially with other metal platforms, like the Xact Metal XM300G family and Mantle’s P-200 metal printers and F-200 sintering furnaces, also debuting at IMTS, and more established players announcing notable sales and installations – like Velo3D’s sale of seven Sapphire systems to Kevton Technologies – metal AM was unsurprisingly in the industrial spotlight.
More competition, more offerings, and quantifiable installations and expansion show a new reality for metal 3D printing. That is: it’s here, it’s on the market, and it’s on-site.
Nikon Invests Ever More Deeply into Additive
Staying on the case-in-point to prove a larger trend, notable global companies continue to invest in AM.
Nikon, which last year acquired Morf3D, has now announced its intent to acquire major player SLM Solutions and on top of that announced through the course of IMTS investments into Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies and Optisys. Best known for its cameras, Nikon’s base technology portfolio lends itself well to the advances that can be driven through optical imaging systems – as shown handily through its latest strategic moves.
This investment, and others of its ilk, handily represent a significant trend in the current state of additive manufacturing as well as a huge topic of discussion at IMTS 2022.
Collaborative Events Highlight Industry Incorporation
In terms of additive manufacturing integration, actual integrated and co-located events served to highlight the realities of industry maturation. With Hannover Messe USA taking place on-site, a rising Formnext participation, Gardner’s AM Conference, and organized efforts to see the workforce evolve through Women Make Manufacturing Move (including participation from Women in 3D Printing, Women in Robotics, and Women in Manufacturing), IMTS 2022 was a hive of AM ecosystem overlap.
Not limiting the AM footprint at IMTS to the dedicated pavilion and, indeed, seeing broadening international and cross-industry participation, further highlighted the maturation process for our industry.
That said, it’s worthy of note that such collaboration is vital as IMTS is uniquely humbling for AM; while the AM industry’s growth is exponential, the small base from which it is growing is starkly in evidence at a massive event dominated by advances in traditional technologies.
The Real Business Happens After Hours
Along with co-located conference tracks and dedicated floor space, the real value of major global events like IMTS comes down to face time with the industry. The real business, as always, happens after official event hours.
With spaces sold out well in advance for registration-required receptions like WMMM and the Wi3DP happy hour, the interest in such events was self-evident. Especially those events orchestrated by industry-first, diversity-driven workforce groups like Women in 3D Printing showed that the people of the industry are keen to come together. Rooftop locations and fine restaurants add to the ambiance, but the real value for such events outside deep dish pizzas is in touching base and shaking hands.
For those of us in the job market, remaining relevant in a fast-moving industry is imperative. For those many companies launching new products and services, keeping in touch with potential partners and customers is always front of mind (or should be). These things happen after hours (as well as in-booth hosted events, like those seen at Velo3D, Markforged, and Nexa3D, which all had major showings with music, bars, and snacks – no better way to attract crowds).
The Takeaway: Events Are Back, Baby
The single biggest takeaway, though – a bonus #5, if you will – is that industry events are truly back. With, naturally, a caveat.
The pandemic is still happening, and numbers have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. While IMTS 2018 saw more than 125,000 attendees, IMTS 2022 reported 75,000 pre-registered attendees before the event’s start. A significant drop, to the tune of 40%, is a notable trend itself as B2B buyers are evolving to embrace digital channels. Still, it’s a 100% increase over 2020 levels, when IMTS was canceled along with every other physical event across the globe (okay, not mathematically, but the spirit is there).
We must remain cognizant of the fact that AM has embraced virtual events, which offer a more notable ROI with a smaller base investment. Large stands can easily cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars for a few days of exhibit time. Further, a virtual exhibition is by far more accessible for attendees and smaller companies alike, all without the problematic carbon footprint. The undercurrent here is that virtual events remain not only a rising star but a beacon when it’s impossible to connect due to any number of physical (and budgetary) circumstances.
Perhaps the era of the massive trade show is over. But there is nothing like the exuberance of face-to-face meetings, and that interpersonal excitement is itself notable even in the face of attendance trends pulling us back to our computers.
IMTS stands among the strongest testaments to industry growth trends and the business of busyness of investments, M&A, and adoption.