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The Evolution of RAPID + TCT

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 the dynamic evolution of RAPID + TCT from a half-day clinic in 1987 to today as North’s America’s largest additive manufacturing and industrial 3D-printing event.

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. Can you describe the evolution?

BOB WILLIG, Executive Director & CEO, SME: RAPID + TCT has evolved as the industry has evolved. RAPID + TCT has been the scene of many industry firsts and “you had to be there” moments. From the early days of stereolithography and major mergers like that of Stratasys with Objet to known brands like HP making its debut in the AM market, RAPID + TCT is the manifestation of an ecosystem of technology discoveries and advancements that have occurred over the last 35+ years. 

You hear from so many people about the recollection of something that occurred at RAPID, something that they saw for the first time. I think the beauty of the event over the last three-plus decades is that it’s organically grown to represent what's happened in a specific set of technologies; you can chart the development of the technologies alongside the development of the event.

DUNCAN WOOD, CEO, TCT Group: The first time I went to RAPID was in 2000. It was obviously a lot smaller, but even back then, it was the de facto North American event. You saw the technology of the day, you met the experts of the day, and the whole thing was predicated on learning and sharing information. It hasn't changed in that mission. It's obviously a lot bigger, there are more exhibitors, there's more innovative technology, there's more conference streams. These are the advantages of an industry-leading event; these are the reasons people leave their offices.

People come to learn about the fundamentals of additive manufacturing. They learn about use cases, they learn about application strategies, they learn about the technical side of applying additive manufacturing. If you want to get your head around how to implement this technology into your business, or maybe you’ve figured that out and now you need to decide what equipment you are going to invest in, then RAPID + TCT has everything you are going to need.

GRIFFITHS: Collaborations and partnerships are clearly at the core of SME and indeed at the heart of RAPID + TCT. Can you talk about that?

WILLIG: Collaborations define SME. You only need to look at our FABTECH event, which SME and the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International launched in 1981, to see how partnerships, founded on a common goal of making an industry better, can have a profound impact. 

The event started as two organizations that chose to put their egos aside and work for the betterment of the industry. Since then, FABTECH has grown with five partners into one of the top trade shows in the country. The RAPID + TCT collaboration is rooted in the same mindset and thought process.

GRIFFITHS: So, tell me more about how this partnership came to fruition?

WOOD: Back in 2016, TCT was looking at the U.S. market. We’d finished working with International CES on its 3D Printing Conference and wanted to continue to help further adoption of these technologies in the U.S., however, what we found was that the market didn't need more events, it needed people to collaborate, to work on developing an event that could be bigger and better, and deliver more for the industry, as well as continue to drive it forward.

That’s when it became obvious that we could really do something special together. We could have stayed in our own lanes and ended up competing against each other. The right thing though for the industry, for the market, for our clients was to work together, and so RAPID + TCT was born! 

I think this story is still hugely pertinent in today's market because the same situation exists really. We’re a niche technology with huge potential, so we should always do right by the market — don’t confuse it, don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be. 

SME has always been collaborative. We’ve always been collaborative. And we've both always been like that because we believe that's the best way to serve the industries that we operate in.

WILLIG: RAPID + TCT takes an open-armed approach to collaboration and has actively pursued it with industry partners like America Makes, AMUG, ARMI, ASTM, RSNA, SAE and Women in 3D Printing to ensure that the industry continues to grow from the strong foundations they’ve collectively planted. This openness largely stems from SME’s key position as a mission-driven nonprofit organization.

Our focus is to expand the opportunity for individuals to be engaged in the additive manufacturing space, to advance the adoption of AM and to educate those who want to become a part of it in any way. We can collaborate with other partners in this industry because, at the end of the day, the measure of our success is the speed at which this industry grows and prevails for more people to get engaged in and be part of it.

This collaboration effort isn’t possible without the people behind it. Whether that’s industry partners, trusted event advisors or RAPID + TCT’s dedicated community of volunteers, there’s a collective of passionate AM advocates behind every conference paper chosen and strategically selected locations that gives the event its unique position in the marketplace.

GRIFFITHS: How does SME’s position as a mission-driven nonprofit help shape the event?

WILLIG: Going back to SME's roots of 90-plus years ago, we were founded as a membership association, and that really hasn't changed how we look toward our members and volunteers to really help us shape and guide the event. Whether it's through reviewing technical content from hundreds of conference submissions to our exhibitor advisory council, which is helping us plan a better experience for exhibitors, to selecting the correct demographics and audience for the event to helping us with our trends, we've always relied heavily on members and volunteers.

SME isn’t afraid to let its community have influence. In fact, we welcome it and feel it’s a two-way street. While SME wants to work with partners to rise the AM tide, we also ensure that SME continues to respond to what the market needs in a tangible way.

WOOD: Our community of volunteers helps maintain your relevancy in the marketplace because they are the marketplace. Whether they're representing large enterprise companies or small independent supplier manufacturers, you get a cross section of what matters to all of them. 

The reality is, when you have a cross section of volunteers representing all the industry, you're able to build a better product and experience, and the SME army of volunteers, all experts, are unrivalled in my experience in their willingness to get behind the event, its mission and drive the industry forward. That passion and dedication, whether it be in conference paper reviewing, track hosting or working on student initiatives, is quite amazing to witness.

GRIFFITHS: Let’s talk about the wider impact of RAPID + TCT.

WILLIG: The impact of RAPID + TCT can be found in the many initiatives that have stemmed from its community. One of the most significant is the ASTM Committee F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies, which emerged from a group of thought leaders who understood and championed the need to develop standards to support the adoption of AM technologies. Additive manufacturing is SME’s deepest and richest portfolio.

While RAPID + TCT is evolving into an all-year-round experience, the springboard was the initial small community that created a clinic, a workshop and so on. With that, they created working groups. Right now, we have our Additive Healthcare Advisory Group, a Direct Digital Manufacturing Advisory Group and other groups, essentially to help create programming all year round.

What started over 30 years ago is a steadfast foundation that was built on collaboration, partnerships and a strong tech-savvy community. SME wants to continue expanding RAPID + TCT and it impact throughout the AM industry now and well into the future.