Why Erfurt has earned its title as capital of 3D printing


Erfurt has hosted a very special family reunion every summer since 2004 – Experts from home and abroad present additive technology innovations at Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D trade show – More than 200 exhibitors have registered for conference in its 15th year – Conference provides latest scientific expertise and practical know how on 3D printing

(Erfurt, 29 May 2018). The terms 3D printing and additive manufacturing were almost unknown in the commercial vocabulary of 15 years ago. At most, the term rapid prototyping was used to denote technologies that could be used to produce models or demonstration pieces directly from data without the need for tools. Messe Erfurt was the first to organise a conference and accompanying exhibition for this niche in 2004. 170 participants and 30 exhibitors came to the first Rapid.Tech in the Thuringian state capital to discuss the potential of these technologies, which at the time were still far from ready for use in industrial series production. This sowed the seed that blossomed into one of the most important international events for additive technologies. Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D is expected to welcome more than 200 exhibitors and over 5,000 trade visitors and conference guests from home and abroad to its 15th anniversary event between 5 and 7 June 2018. The constant growth of the trade show and conference has led to Erfurt being known as the capital of 3D printing for three days each year.

Michael Eichmann, manager of leading US 3D printing technology provider Stratasys, has been part of and helped to shape this “rise” from the outset. The current chairman of the Rapid.Tech Advisory Board waxes almost lyrical when describing the atmosphere in Erfurt: “A very special family reunion takes place here every summer and we all look forward to it each year. Additive manufacturing specialists come together for a high-profile conference and an equally high-profile exhibition. The evening event is tremendously important for networking and helps people to get to know and love Erfurt beyond the exhibition grounds. The site’s location in the centre of Germany, its easy accessibility and the outstanding organisational skills of its staff mean it is the complete package.”

Dr Sabine Sändig was probably the greatest driving force behind this development. A specialist in laser material processing and additive manufacturing, and a technology expert at the Foundation for Technology, Innovation and Research in Thuringia (STIFT), it was she who encouraged Messe Erfurt to implement the Rapid.Tech concept in early 2004. “We saw the potential of these new technologies and were able not only to win over the state of Thuringia as a supporter, but also to inspire partners from beyond state borders to get on board and drive the issue forward in the long term,” says the project manager for technology development at the Thüringer Aufbaubank, who has been a member of the Advisory Board of Rapid.Tech from the outset. Another of the “drivers” is Professor Andreas Gebhardt of the Aachen University of Applied Sciences, one of the foremost experts in additive manufacturing methods. He is the author of the standard reference work for these technologies and was the technical advisor for the first Rapid.Tech, and in his keynote speech set out a vision for rapid manufacturing where the central concept was an integrated product development process, rather than a product or tool. “How do we use additive processes to get better products faster? How do we design ever safer production processes? How do we achieve a high rate of reproducibility? How do we apply the lessons we have learned to a range of sectors? We have been finding better and better answers to these and other questions in recent years, and the annual exchange of ideas and experience in Erfurt has played no small part in this,” says Professor Gebhardt.

The strategic direction of Rapid.Tech is set by its Advisory Board. Its members are a mix of users, technology providers, service providers and researches and this ensures that the right topics are selected. “We take care to present the latest scientific expertise and current best-practice solutions for different sectors at conference events. Alongside displays of new machinery, processes and sample products at exhibitors’ stands, we offer a combination that is unique amongst trade shows and conferences, one that is proving increasingly popular. This is the pay-off for all the founders’ determination and patience over the years,” says Professor Gerd Witt. The Chair of the Department of Production Engineering at the University of Duisburg-Essen is another co-founder of the Erfurt event and co-chair of the Advisory Board with Michael Eichmann.

The Advisory Board and the Messe have continuously expanded the programme. Individual sector and process-specific events have been added, along with the practice-based Users Conference and the AM Science forum. This year’s event will include the Automotive Industry, Aviation, 3D Printed Electronics and Functionality, Tool, Mould and Fixture Making, Contract Additive Manufacturing, 3D Metal Printing and Design forums. The topic of medicine is being rebooted in the form of the Medical, Dental and Orthopaedic Technology forum. Since legal issues are gaining importance as 3D printing moves towards industrial series production, a brand new Law forum is being introduced.

Rapid.Tech got another boost in 2013 when it merged with FabCon 3.D. “This is where the established industry comes into contact with fabbers and start-ups. Not everyone liked it at the start, but these new ideas fascinate people, bring real enrichment and have market potential,” says Professor Gebhardt. Alongside the exhibition, the 3D printing community will once again come together for the 3D Printing Conference on all three days. Speakers will discuss current issues and technical innovations, and also provide behind-the-scenes insights into their research and development activities and selected competitions. Talks will cover everything from start-up financing to digital fabrication and education. Messe Erfurt is also once again looking for the most innovative company founders for its Start-Up Award and the best design ideas for its 3D Pioneers Challenge. Guests will find out who the winners are at the networking evening on 6 June 2018 and discover whether they include any truly global innovations.

Michael Eichmann was incidentally the first to bring a global innovation to the trade show. In 2004, he and his former company RTC Rapid Technologies, presented the Eden 260 3D printer for Israeli company Objet. It had just come onto the market and was designed to produce plastic prototypes quickly and cost effectively. Michael Eichmann will once again be responsible for providing a true highlight at the 2018 anniversary event. Together with Stratasys founder Scott Crump, he has succeeded in recruiting a 3D printing pioneer for Erfurt. The inventor of Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) technology, a process that is used in 90 per cent of 3D printers around the world today, will be giving a keynote speech at this year’s event on the current status of, and prospects for, additive manufacturing. The other keynote speakers, Dr Dominik Rietzel from BMW and Christoph Wangenheim from GE company Baker Hughes, will set out additive roadmaps for the automotive industry and the oil and gas sectors.

“Around 100 international experts from industry and the research sector will introduce the latest developments in additive manufacturing (AM) over the three days. Along with the more than 200 exhibitors, we will be welcoming the who’s who of the 3D printing sector. This confirms that Erfurt is the ideal place to showcase the latest developments in this technology of the future. With the support of the distinguished experts from industry and research on our Advisory Board, we were one of the first trade fair organisers worldwide to focus on this topic and, thanks to our consistency and commitment, have established ourselves as a leading European destination for exhibitors, visitors and conference participants since 2004. Erfurt can quite rightly claim the title of 3D printing capital as for three days in June the whole world of AM gathers here to exchange their knowledge and experiences,” says Michael Kynast, CEO of Messe Erfurt GmbH.

Professional qualification in industrial 3D printing is gaining in importance alongside technical, commercial and legal issues, and this is also reflected in Erfurt. “We need technicians who can operate the new machinery and who are familiar with the processes. This is why education and training in this area will be a focus of our exhibition,” says Professor Gebhardt. A new qualification programme will be presented among other things. Schmalkalden University of Applied Sciences has teamed up with Aachen University of Applied Sciences and the University of Duisburg-Essen to develop the part-time Application technician for additive processes/rapid technologies course, which has been on offer since the 2017 summer semester. This is one of many projects born out of 15 years of Rapid.Tech.

All details of the Conference and supporting programme, as well as of more than 200 exhibitors, are available here: www.rapidtech-fabcon.com. The online ticket shop can also be accessed via the home page.

You can download this press information here.

You can find impressions of Rapid.Tech + FabCon 3.D 2017 here.