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From Vision to Reality

By Laura Griffiths
Head of Content – TCT
RAPID News Group

Throughout its 35-year history, RAPID + TCT’s mission has remained the same: to keep driving the additive manufacturing (AM) industry forward.

The event has always been, and continues to be, at the forefront of AM innovation, with the most cutting-edge technologies and biggest power players sharing unmatched insights and real-life applications on North America’s main stage for AM. If the additive manufacturing industry had its own Super Bowl, RAPID + TCT would be it.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the CEOs from the two organizations that come together to produce the largest AM and industrial 3D-printing event in North America: Bob Willig from SME and Duncan Wood from the TCT Group. 

Here, the longtime partners talk about RAPID + TCT as North’s America’s largest additive manufacturing and industrial 3D-printing event along with some exciting news about its future.

LAURA GRIFFITHS, Head of Content at The TCT Group, Rapid News Group: RAPID + TCT has grown to be North America’s largest AM and industrial 3D-printing event. You have exciting news to share about the future of RAPID + TCT. Tell me what’s ahead for the event.

WILLIG: SME has created a strategic roadmap for the continued growth of RAPID + TCT, and we’re sending a clear message to the industry that we’re listening to the marketplace and building a path for the future of the technology.

The industry is back out in person at events, stronger than we’ve seen since the beginning of the pandemic. We know exhibitors and attendees are planning farther out. We typically announce RAPID + TCT dates roughly one year before, however, we’re working toward announcing dates sooner as this provides our diverse stakeholder groups the opportunity to plan and participate in future RAPID + TCT events. In addition, we’re excited to announce a new city in our rotation and want to give everyone as much advance notice as possible. 

As everyone knows, for 2024, the event returns to LA for the first time in almost a decade, opening a new frontier of possibilities at the heart of the U.S. manufacturing output. Home to the likes of Boeing, Tesla, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, a plethora of medical device companies and at the heart of the aerospace and entertainment industries, Southern California is a powerhouse in all manufacturing senses. Over 400 exhibitors will be there on the show floor in addition to the highest-quality technical conference the event has ever seen, as well as special features, such as an executive keynote series and a Hollywood Showcase. We will celebrate Southern California’s adoption of AM technologies for the special effects industry.  

WOOD: It's going to be an exciting year. There’s not been a major additive manufacturing event on the West Coast since 2015. I believe there's pent-up demand for RAPID + TCT in California. Think about how many people have new jobs or started new careers who want to learn about this technology. We're excited to bring the premier AM event to Los Angeles.

We have a world-class conference program with over 160 presentations alongside the show floor — for those in California who haven’t got to Chicago and Detroit in recent years — this is a fantastic opportunity to hear from the likes of Google, Boeing, Rivian, the U.S. Air Force and Zimmer Biomet. A truly inspirational lineup! 

GRIFFITHS: You’ve also got a slew of exciting announcements for 2025 too I understand, what can you reveal?

WILLIG: In 2025, the event will return to Detroit, the home of SME and North America’s automotive legacy. Detroit has produced the largest audience in the events history (2019), and a strong rebound in 2022, post covid and 2025 in Detroit sees something completely new.

SME has a long history of collaboration; RAPID + TCT itself is a brilliant collaboration, and 2025 will see two significant co-locations sit alongside the event. Both events enable us to impact a wider audience with the transformational possibilities of AM and consequently the potential for our exhibitors is supercharged.

First, we’re partnering with the Society of Automotive Engineers to co-locate with its World Congress Experience event, WCX, which welcomes over 6,000 automotive and mobility professionals.

The mobility industry is transforming into a multibillion-dollar industry. WCX is North America’s largest technical mobility event, providing an unmatched opportunity to see all the moving parts in today’s mobility industry — and the groundbreaking innovations that are shaping the next phase.

The second big announcement for 2025 features the exciting co-location of SME’s AeroDef Manufacturing event alongside RAPID + TCT. AeroDef is the premier aerospace manufacturing and defense manufacturing event with a conference and exhibitor pavilion bringing in a whole new audience of aerospace and defense customers, which is, of course, a key audience for RAPID + TCT. 

Since its inception in 2011, AeroDef’s mission has always been to foster innovation across the extended enterprise to reduce costs, expedite production times and maintain manufacturing competitiveness. It was created in partnership, and with direction from the leading OEMs and government agencies in the U.S., so with this co-location, we can showcase AM to this fast-moving sector.

WOOD: I think it’s important that we signpost to the industry what our plans are. 2025 is a busy year and flagging these exciting co-locations will drive increased audiences from some of the biggest user groups in AM, which means our exhibitors can be certain that RAPID + TCT will deliver a superb ROI for them and help them make the right choice for their marketing budgets. We’ve also got something to announce later this year that will be hugely exciting to the medical users of AM, so watch this space!

GRIFFITHS: You’ve announced that in 2026, RAPID + TCT heads to Boston for the first time. Why did you select Boston?

WOOD: This has been in the works for a long time. In fact, it’s been one of the most requested cities from our exhibitors for many years. Boston and the surrounding area have a rich heritage in AM, in research, in technology development and in use cases. There’s a real buzz in the air. 

Our partners and exhibitors look to the city and surrounding areas historic and emerging manufacturing sectors, medical technology community, leading educational institutions and government investment as fresh playing fields for creating AM awareness and increasing that AM adoption. The need for new markets and new audience is essential. 

Ultimately, the choice is simple: to increase the adoption of AM, which is our joint mission, you need to go to places you haven’t been before. It’s exciting and offers us the ability to regenerate a new and exciting event with different attendees every year as we move to alternate cities, which obviously impacts the broader AM community as well.

GRIFFITHS: Yes, the RAPID + TCT community extends much further than one week in a convention center every spring. Tell me more about that.

WILLIG: SME’s efforts around AM are year-round. For instance, through SME’s Voices AMplified series and awards programs, SME is dedicated to sharing the stories and achievements of people in the industry, and listening to them at events like the AM Summit, which convenes leading thinkers and doers to explore where AM could go next and how SME can help take it there. Tooling U-SME, the workforce development arm of SME, has built robust AM learning resources to upskill and new skill talent, helping accelerate AM adoption supporting thousands of manufacturers and educational institutions each year. 

The SME Education Foundation supports high school career and technical education programs to build the next generation of AM skills development. It’s also inspiring the next generation of engineers and manufacturers by co-sponsoring (with Stratasys) the SkillsUSA Additive Manufacturing Competition; its hands-on Bright Minds program, which attracts close to 1,000 students to RAPID + TCT each year; and robust scholarship programs focused on needs-based and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.  

GRIFFITHS: How are these student programs helping manufacturers?

WILLIG: There was a time in the events industry, and at RAPID + TCT, where your average exhibitor would say, “I really am here just for the business-to-business opportunity.” There’s great importance of these initiatives to not only students, but industry too. Suddenly those students coming and talking to them has developed into a major highlight. Dedicated individuals from HR are trying to create an impression for this future talent so that one day they're working at these organizations.

WOOD: It's not all about the commercial side of things. It's about having an impact on the industry. A line underneath all of this is that SME has always been critically committed to additive manufacturing and advancing it, whether it was that smaller event in 2000, to this year and looking forward to 2025 and 2026, you know you're going to get the right experts in room, the right companies in the room — that's an enduring legacy. To be around as an event for that long, and still be hugely relevant to the industry it represents, isn’t something that should be ignored.

GRIFFITHS: Any last thoughts on the future of RAPID + TCT?

WILLIG: AM has strong roots planted in North America. Technology was founded here, and it continues to be a powerhouse with the largest install base of industrial 3D printers in the world. American firms like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, Ford and General Motors are already using the technology in key industries, and that will only continue to grow as efforts to reshore manufacturing and disrupt supply chains require new, innovative processes. RAPID + TCT will be at the center, and it’ll continue to go where there’s a thirst for additive technologies to ensure this industry grows with it. RAPID + TCT is the Super Bowl of AM, and cities are clamouring for the show to arrive.

We truly believe that once a year in North America, in the city where we're holding RAPID + TCT, there’s an opportunity to display the entire depth and breadth of this wonderful industry and community. And we do that proudly and collaboratively.

Explore further insights into the development of RAPID + TCT in this follow-up article.