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Formnext Connect review: high attendance confirms digital potential

Digital version of the leading global AM fair delivers solid performance in a level digital playing field

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Due to the ongoing Coronavirus threat, Formnext Connect, the digital version of Formnext, the AM industry’s leading platform, made its debut from 10-12 November 2020. The success of the virtual event exceeded all expectations and shows the potential and benefits of digital communication platforms for all participants.

Formnext Connect attracted a total of 203 exhibitors with approx. 2,200 representatives, and showcased 1,412 products. 8,541 active participants from more than 100 nations (1/3 national, 2/3 international) made great use of the intelligent and modern matchmaking feature, which managed to generate over 450,000 recommendations for products and other participants.

Further, 23,311 new contacts and 4,733 business meetings in the form of video calls were enabled. The 221 lectures and presentations of the high-profile program of stage events and sessions were watched by 45,000 spectators. Here, experts from all over the world discussed current and future trends, developments and applications in various webinars and discussion panels. “In particular the AI-supported possibilities for networking offered by Formnext Connect, showed how efficient and target-oriented matchmaking between exhibitors and visitors can work on digital platforms”, explained Petra Haarburger, President at Mesago Messe Frankfurt, the organizer of Formnext.

At the EOS digital bar, I had the chance to meet with Davide Iacovelli, Daniele Caviglia and Davide Zurro for an informal chat at the end of day 1

Formnext Connect experience

For the 3dpbm team, Formenxt Connect was a success. We have been fans of Formenxt’s modern approach to the AM industry from the very start and were able to witness first hand it’s explosive growth over the past few years. The platform—and its organizers at Mesago—have embraced a more digital-ready approach from the very start, however such a rapid shift into a fully digital infrastructure to support such a large gathering of people, companies and technologies could have proven to be a huge challenge.

Instead, the Mesago team was able to build a strong and solid platform that favored the creation of new connections and new networks. The exciting atmosphere of physical Formnext can never be replaced but the rapid pace of information exchange came as close as it could to the real thing. Getting this done in just a few months is an impressive feat.

The 3D Ceram digital booth was among the nicest we visited.

The key trends

Inevitably the main thing missing from the digital show was the visually and physically impressive booths from some of the industry’s largest players. This may have saved them a lot of money but we’re pretty sure they would have gladly spent it to further cement their leadership. Sure, there were “digital booths”—some were actually really fascinating to see—but it’s not quite the same experience. Thus, in a way, having a digital show “leveled the playing field”, with smaller, leaner firms able to obtain nearly as much visibility as the larger ones.

A more person-centric rather than product-centric event, without large booths to support a massive presence, may have been a disadvantage for some of the industry’s largest players and also made it more difficult to identify key new products. At the same time, the show’s biggest product launch, SLM’s new NXG XII 600, 12-laser metal PBF system, was perfectly executed and able to attract the attention of a large chunk of the AM industry with an exciting online launch event.

We can imagine that for most of the larger companies, selling multi-hundred-thousand-dollar machines over online chat might present quite the challenge. More than anything, a fully digital show can help to develop the connections; following through with clients will require a more direct effort over the course of the year. Overall, representatives from several smaller firms told us they were very happy with the number of new leads they were able to obtain, while some larger firms lamented the difficulty in reaching out to (and being found by) key contacts within large potential client firms. This is certainly an issue that can be addressed in future editions, as the already quite advanced matchmaking system further evolves. It remains to be seen exactly how relevant the digital aspect will be in future editions.

Nexa 3D—as part of the Xponential group—has always been a digitally-ready firm.

Digital balancing act

The act of balancing conferences and personal meetings was just as challenging as any other Formnext. Which is a good thing. For us at 3dpbm, this also presented the added challenge of promptly reporting on the many news coming out in the form of press releases (though not nearly as many as previous editions). Although it may not have been as glamorous as “finding” the big news running through the booths, it was also a lot less stressful.

The content of the online conferences was—as usual—very high level. The personal meeting infrastructure enabled us to connect with firms that we may have not been in contact with otherwise. This can actually be seen an improvement over physical editions, where time is so tight that you end-up mostly prioritizing ongoing business relationships over establishing new ones. Why meet with ongoing partners and friends at Formnext Connect when you can just as easily connect again next week over a chat?

Meeting online also meant you could be meeting from anywhere. For us at 3dpbm—as a digitally native and fully digital, online company—this has been the standard for most meetings from the very start. As an Italian riding out the pandemic lockdown in sunny Sicily, having some of my Formnext meetings by the seaside was a welcome added perk. As it will be a welcome change to go back to Frankfurt in person next year.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites VoxelMatters.com and Replicatore.it, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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