Ahead of the 2024 edition of the Additive Manufacturing Users Group’s conference—better known as AMUG—we caught up with AMUG President Shannon VanDeren to learn about the organization’s mission, the state of the industry and what guests can expect at this year’s event (spoiler: there is an 80s-themed night!). As usual, AMUG will be hosted in Chicago, Illinois, from March 10 to 14, 2024. If you haven’t already, you can register for the event here.
VanDeren was promoted from Vice President of AMUG to President last year and is also the owner and President of her own firm, Layered Manufacturing and Consulting. She has also been a part of AMUG for a decade, with a long tenure as the Medical Track leader. In her new role as President, she is carrying the torch for what is one of the most influential additive manufacturing industry events of the year, which brings together engineers, designers, managers and educators from all over the globe to share the latest innovations, expertise, best practices and more.
VoxelMatters: What is your main focus for AMUG and for the AMUG Conference?
Shannon VanDeren: My main focus is split: I want to ensure we are living up to the mission of creating a conference that advances additive manufacturing—both by way of technology advancement and people advancement. Beyond this broader scope of focus is my intentional focus on the people who are shaping the conference: our volunteers. I want them to feel encouraged, supported and enthusiastic about their involvement. Just as important are our members/sponsors. The core of the conference is the individuals who are making the time to come to AMUG 2024 and share!
VM: What are the main objectives you want to achieve this year?
SVD: I’m a people person and a people pleaser. It is very important to me to recognize those who take the time to invest in AMUG (by way of time, registration, sponsoring, etc). I want to see and hear all feedback from those willing to share. I want to ensure we are reviewing and evaluating all feedback. Our longevity and relevance rest highly on ensuring the user community finds unmatched value in their investment in AMUG.
VM: What has changed since you became President of AMUG? Both for you and for AMUG?
SVD: AMUG is always changing! While our mission remains the same, the individuals serving on the board and on committees are changing. Wonderfully, this means new ideas and perspectives are being presented, thus allowing for continued change.
For me personally, the most noticeable change has been my time allocation. The role of president comes with a much larger time commitment. As the president of my own company, this has forced me to create good habits to allow for proper time allocation while not ignoring or abandoning the vision and needs of both.
VM: How many hours go into organizing an AMUG Conference?
SVD: Interesting you ask this. Our past treasurer reported in the business meeting last year that he estimated the number of hours received from our volunteers to be somewhere around 35,610! (There are only 8,760 hours in a year.) The number of people investing time to pull this conference together is astounding, admirable and wildly appreciated.
VM: And what are the roles of the many volunteers working at the AMUG Conference?
SVD: Oh gosh, each role is different in its requirements, both pre-conference and at the conference. To capture this in more detail, I would refer you to our website for more specific information. The board of directors each have a ‘lane’ of responsibility and are direct liaisons to at least one committee. Our committees include Collaboration, Finance, Governance, International, Marketing, Membership, New Member, Nominating, Volunteer, DINO, Event, Expo, Recognition, Registration, Scholarship, Sponsor, Tech Comp and Track Leader. This gives volunteers many options for areas that they might have a particular interest in.
VM: In all the years you have worked at the AMUG Conference, what would you say are the aspects that have made this event unique among AM conferences?
SVD: I attend a number of conferences throughout the year and all of them prove to be of value. Yet, AMUG is indeed unique for a number of reasons:
- We are all users of AM. This puts us immediately in the company of others with an obvious connection.
- We host our event at a hotel, we stay at the hotel, we dine at the hotel. This gives us constant opportunities for engagement. Since the hotel is filled with AMUG Members, the conversations are already easy and aligned.
- The willingness to share and network with others (including competitors) at AMUG’s conferences is unmatched. The camaraderie is evident upon arrival; the reunions of industry colleagues, the excitement of making new ones and the genuine sincerity in conversation is downright special.
- We’ve put a bigger focus in recent years on hands-on workshops. Personally, I’m a tactile learner, so I’m much more attentive when you engage me through multiple senses. Casting, extrusion, finishing and others are all found in our workshops.
VM: What does AMUG do to enable more and more companies and interested parties to get involved with AM and leverage it to get the most benefit?
SVD: We provide a forum where we all gather—OEMs, academics, end users— and the conversation options are limitless. AMUG is designed to allow for fruitful conversation and networking, as well as for users to build their knowledge, build their Rolodex, build their confidence, build their ideation and more. We want visitors to capture all of these things during the five days that we are together each year.
AMUG builds tracks that are designed to educate and further implore creativity and assembles an expo that is designed to foster communication and coaching. We encourage our sponsors to take advantage of the audience that is there by offering training sessions/workshops/coaching. AMUG keeps us together in a single location to further encourage interaction and relationships to help each of us grow.
VM: Can you tell us a little bit more about the AMUG scholarship program?
SVD: Our scholarships are really an act of love and admiration. The two scholarships were developed to honor two very special members who we’ve lost, Guy Bourdeau and Randy Stevens. One is allocated to a student who is utilizing AM, the other is allocated to an educator who is utilizing AM.
We all know the value of promoting AM in academia to help further the growth of our workforce. It is a beautiful union of honoring the legacy of contributors in AM with our educational influencers and the students who study it. The scholarship covers all costs (travel, lodging, and conference fee). The scholarship recipients gain perspective from the user community applications, and we gain perspective by learning about what they are investing their time.
VM: Looking more generally at the AM industry, are you happy with where we are today?
SVD: I am happy with where we are. I think AM has earned its seat at the table as a viable manufacturing solution. It isn’t perfect, nor is it always the right solution or fully developed; however, if you look at our tracking of its growth for the last few decades, one should be encouraged at the achievements we’ve enjoyed. I’m even more happy that I am immersed in this growing field of advancement!
VM: And what do you think should happen for the industry to continue to grow over the next decade as it has in the past two decades?
SVD: Communication, education, coaching, sharing, trials, workshops, the list goes on. These are all assets in gaining committed investment in stepping beyond what is more conventional/traditional.
VM: Why do you think some companies have been struggling (especially on the stock market) and do you get the impression that the industry as a whole is going through a difficult time?
SVD: I think the AM journey has enjoyed surges and fallbacks. New developments and advancements come with challenges, as well as times of enthusiasm and times of skepticism. I think it is safe to say that we may not be surging at the moment, but the hope is high. Equipment, material and software OEMs continue to innovate, thus allowing end-users to further innovate. It is a cyclical pattern and I have confidence that we are rising.
VM: And finally, what special events should we expect from this year’s AMUG Conference?
SVD: We have many special events to look forward to!
- Off-site event: This special event has moved to Wednesday, March 13th this year. I truly do not know where it will take place. Only a very small handful of people have access to that information, and I am not among them.
- AMUGderby: The AMUGderby (much like Pinewood Derby) will take place in the AMUGexpo hall (Salon C) on Tuesday night (March 12, 2024). My hope is that the members and sponsors flex their creative muscles for this fun competition! I’m already seeing some comments about participants channeling their “inner Cub Scout”. That makes me so joy-filled!
- 80s night: We have incorporated a theme for the last couple of years. This year’s theme is the 1980s, which should be a hoot! The hair and wardrobe of the 80s was quite something (I was a teen then and went through my fair share of hairspray and leg warmers). I’m quite certain we’re going to have some good laughs on this walk down memory lane!
- Casino night: This anticipated event will be on Thursday (March 14, 2024). This has been a popular event in past years and has some terrific prizes to be won.
AMUG 2024 registration is open
All in all, AMUG 2024 is gearing up to be quite the event. As VanDeren says, it’s a unique event that brings all types of people from the world of AM together both to share new ideas and knowledge and have some fun. Once more, here is the registration link for AMUG 2024.