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IMTS 2018 is the industry's greatest gathering of resources for Additive Manufacturing

Trying to analyse the state of Additive Manufacturing technology might feel like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle as the pieces are being set.

Each player in this fast-moving arena presents a piece of the puzzle, and potential and current adopters have questions that range from as basic as choosing a material to as advanced as how to accurately confer properties on a molecular level.

 “To obtain a true sense of what is possible today and, in the future, IMTS 2018 – The International Manufacturing Technology Show, offers an unprecedented concentration of Additive Manufacturing resources,” says Peter R. Eelman, Vice President – Exhibitions & Business Development at AMT-The Association For Manufacturing Technology, which owns and produces IMTS. “In such a short time, the history of IMTS has become synonymous with AM technology breakthroughs.” At IMTS 2018, Eelman predicts that one of the hottest AM topics of discussion will be how to extend the digital thread from design through processing to the final part.

Held 10th - 15th September at Chicago's McCormick Place, the AM resources at IMTS include the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion and a second AMT's Emerging Technology Centre focused strictly on Additive Manufacturing, both located at the entrance to the West Building in an expanded exhibit space. The AM Pavilion now boasts 56 exhibitors, up from 21 two years ago, plus several exhibitors in other Pavilions who will showcase additive-related technology.

During show years, IMTS hosts the Additive Manufacturing Conference presented by Gardner Business Media on 11th - 12th September and the AppliedAM – Where Additive Minds Meet symposium presented by EOS North America on 12th September. In addition, at least six of the technical sessions presented as part of the IMTS Conference will focus on AM technology (view sessions list).

“IMTS is valuable for any company that wants to stay competitive,” says Glynn Fletcher, President of EOS North America. “Moving into production with additive manufacturing is a new experience for everybody. That's why we bring a large team of experts who know the technology and equipment, from engineers to service techs. There's no other place where you can have access to so many experts at one time. It's a truly unique experience.”

The theme for EOS' IMTS 2018 exhibit is an “Additive Mile” that takes visitors through the progressive steps of a journey in additive manufacturing: prototype, looking at material options, selecting and optimising part design, scaling up, production, integration into a facility and ongoing service and upgrades.

“Additive manufacturing is about solving the problem of high-cost, low-volume manufacturing,” says Ed Israel, President and co-founder of Plural Additive Manufacturing. “There's been a huge void in the marketplace for companies that couldn't afford the technology but would benefit from producing good prototype parts and serial manufactured parts using 3D printing. IMTS 2018 is the best place to learn how.”

Mr Israel says that he thinks of Plural as an additive manufacturing integrator that works with customers to help them with any aspect of AM, from parts design all the way through high volume parts production. To help people find the right ways to apply AM, whether within an existing assembly or for new product development, Plural has developed a cost-per-part calculator.

“The big issue that will drive additive manufacturing is bringing cost per part down to a point where it can open up new markets, improve margins or accomplish other business objectives,” believes Mr Israel. “We can help companies determine whether additive has value before they invest in it.”

“People are beginning to see that they can very quickly and locally print their own tooling and therefore increase the innovation and decrease the overall cycle time to develop that next big product,” states Bill Peter, Director of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a long-time collaborator with IMTS for creating demonstrations for the Emerging Technology Center.

Peter notes that the United States lost about 37% of the die and tool industry in less than a decade and currently imports 70% to 80% of its tools. Having demonstrated success with polymer moulds, the MDF is now examining how to move forward with metal 3D printing.

“We want to look at cost-effective feedstocks and increase the deposition rate of additive systems that could make tools,” he says, noting that tooling greatly affects lead times and the cost and rate of innovation.

In a snapshot, the industry has gone from using AM for prototyping, to building jigs and fixtures and finally to serial manufacture of end parts. It's a recommended path of technology adoption, as it helps companies become familiar in digestible increments. As companies move forward, however, they need to invest in AM-specific software.

With all the possibilities at IMTS 2018, “I believe the best way to accomplish your objectives is to have a plan going into the show,” says Jeff Holtzapple, Business Development Manager, Additive Manufacturing, Morris Group, which represents Desktop Metal and other manufacturers. “I think if you use the MyShow Planner and make appointments with exhibitors, you'll have a much more successful time at IMTS.”