From 16 to 19 November 2021, Frankfurt was once again the world centre for advanced manufacturing technologies hosting the seventh edition of Formnext. More than 600 exhibitors from 36 countries attracted 17,859 visitors from 76 nationalities to halls 11, 12 and 12.1 of the Frankfurt Messe, occupying some 30,000 square metres. 
The current sanitary crisis has slowed down the dramatical growth of the event, with figures similar to those of 2017, and very far from those of 2019, the last one held in person, as in 2020 it was held virtually. 
However, Formnext plans to continue to grow. Its 2022 events for the Asian continent (Rosmould in Russia, and forums in Tokyo and Shanghai) are joined by a roadmap for the show expansion in the United States, culminating in an event in April 2025 in Chicago.
Integration in production and quality control
Additive manufacturing is no longer a technology dedicated just to the prototype market and is moving in the direction of direct production. In both plastic and metal technologies, we see a clear commitment to offer serial-functional parts, and with guarantees in terms of mechanical properties.
The recently introduced SLS 380 from 3D Systems is a good example. In order to guarantee thermal stability, the machine integrates a high-resolution infrared camera that monitors the process temperature with 100,000 images per second. The continuous correction of this critical parameter ensures repeatability regardless of the production and the location of the part. 
Still with plastics, but resin-based with a DLP projector, Stratasys is presenting its Programmable PhotoPolymerization (P3) technology in Europe. The innovation proposed by the Israeli manufacturer consists of controlling the printing of each layer, regulating in real time values such as, for example, the peel forces from the tank. 
With the Origin One, Stratasys competes with other similar machines such as 3D Systems’ Figure 4 or Carbon.
In metal we discovered Renishaw’s RenAM 500 series. Versatile thanks to the possibility of integrating one or four lasers and flexible, as indicated by the suffix of its latest innovation, the RenAM 500 Flex, which facilitates and simplifies the change of material to be used.
In addition, taking advantage of its vast knowledge of the measurement industry, it has a complete print control system (laser, powder deposition or melting), which can be analysed in its InifiniAM software.
“Regulated industries such as medical or aerospace require absolute process control for quality assurance”
Jan Šolc, Product Manager at Renishaw
To deliver production-scale parts, process simplification is vital. This is why many manufacturers include automation solutions. Nexa3D, in addition to integrating 4 lasers to offer high speeds (up to 8 l/hour) in its QLS350, proposes to install it in the factory of the future where machines operate semi-autonomously.
“Thanks to our collaboration with Siemens, the manufacturing chamber is equipped with PLC controls to be functional in Industry 4.0”
Kuba Graczyk, Head of Business SLS at Nexa3D
When it comes to automation, we cannot forget Additive Industries. At Formnext, the Eindhoven-based company presented the second generation of its MetalFab series, the G2 model, with which it insists on the idea of industrialising the metal additive manufacturing process to the maximum by offering a machine that could well be a workshop in itself.
Size does matter
Another area where 3D printing is growing is in the manufacture of large unitary parts. From the Netherlands, CEAD proposes an extruder head guided by a robotic arm to print composite and thermoplastic materials. The material, in pellets, can be easily machined and recycled. Nozzle sizes between 2 and 20 mm allow for deposition rates of up to 84 kg/h.
“Our own booth is made in this technology, and after the event, we can recycle the material and reuse it“
Michiel Jacobi, Customer Support Engineer at CEAD Group
But it is undoubtedly the Dutch company MX3D that has stood out this year in the production of large-scale parts. It is bringing to the show its first commercial machine, the M1, in WAAM technology. Known for projects such as the Amsterdam bridge or “Elevate”, the lift for Schindler, it can be said that they are taking additive manufacturing to the streets. 
Research and development for new applications and processes
Technology centres are of course present at the German event. In addition to the Fraunhofer Institute, playing the role of prophet in its own land, there are other more modest but no less important centres.
From Barcelona, recently moved to Zona Franca, we talked to I AM 3D HUB, the initiative of the Leitat centre that aims to support companies in integrating additive manufacturing into their processes. Partners such as HP, Renishaw or Materialise among others have deposited their technology to be used in these innovation tasks.
“We provide manufacturing equipment and qualified personnel to enable companies to develop new products in a competitive way”
Òscar Alonso, Additive Manufacturing Area Manager at Leitat
Focused more towards research tasks, specifically in Direct Energy Deposition (DED) technology, we find Addimadour, from the south of France. Launched in 2017 by ESTIA (École Supérieure des Technologies Industrielles Avancées), the Bayonne site has LMD-P (Laser Metal Deposition Powder), LMD-W (Laser Metal Deposition Wire), WAAM (Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing) and SLM (Selective Laser Melting) capabilities, as well as a metallographic analysis lab. 
“DED technologies are not yet at the maturity level of other AM processes, so there is a lot of work to be done in multiple research lines”
Valentin Peigne, Research Engineer at Addimadour
Much more at Formnext
Of course, this article is just a snapshot of what was in Frankfurt, but it tries to convey the idea that additive manufacturing is still in full swing and has even created markets that were previously out of reach. At the rate it is going, it is unstoppable.
Conflict of interest
The author declares that there is no conflict of interest and that no organisation has been cited for commercial and/or advertising purposes.
Cover image via Formnext
 Formnext 2021 data via Formnext: presse release of 19/11/2021
 Data from previous events via: Formnext Facts & Figures
 Timeline: nota de prensa del 18/11/2021
 Nexa3D QLS350
 Additive Industries press release for the launch of MetalFabG2. 16/11/2021
 Metal M1 System MX3D
 I AM 3D HUB