2021 – The Death Knell for Large 3DP Trade Shows

Thousands of additive manufacturing trade shows and conferences were held worldwide at the peak of 3D printing’s hype. Today, mega trade shows are unnecessary and extraneous due to the market’s evolution, magnified by COVID’s impact. Buyers and suppliers want 1:1 contact, not one-to-thousands.

Back Story

Sure, major trade shows are appealing to convention centers. With massive overhead, they must cover their investments with a stream of events. And the hospitality industry loves them, as attendees rent rooms, dine out, and hit the bars after a long day walking the show floor. (Ever been to the bar at the Marriott across the street from the Frankfurt Messe during Formnext? I have. It’s wild.)

The high cost of trade shows makes them less appealing to exhibitors – bills for shipping and booths, management and staff time before, during and after the show, and personnel travel, lodging, meals (and drink) costs. Exhibitors see three types of attendees: people who are unknown (and who may be simply curious and not a customer), people who are known (and valued as a solid customer or likely prospect), and media, analysts, consultants, educators, students, and others who are not buyers. Getting the right people into the booth, meeting with paying customers without inadvertently ignoring a solid prospect can be a nightmare.

Trade show attendance changed as the 3DP market evolved. Gone are days where one or two senior managers would wander the halls. Pre-COVID, groups of mid-level managers, engineers and machine operators wove their way to see exhibitors they knew could meet their technology needs.

But 2020 and 2021 changed all that. For example, look at the numbers for Formnext, arguably the 3DP industry’s largest tradeshow:

2019852 (+35%)34,532 (+28%)
2020No show
2021606 (-29%)17,859 (-48%)
Source: Trade press and Formnext

While the pandemic impacted the numbers, the question is whether attendees will return to big trade shows in pre-COVID numbers. I think not. 

A Small Sample of My Lanyards Going Back Many Years

Current State

Attendees and exhibitors prefer 1:1 time. Attendees want to ask probing questions and see product demonstrations without wondering if a competitor is listening in. They want several people involved in the discussion, reflecting management, operational, engineering, and procurement interests. Allowing several people to visit a vendor’s facility is more economical and the best use of everyone’s time.

The same holds for vendors. Stratasys and Massivit are just two of the 3DP vendors who have hosted client and prospect events at their facilities. Both events involved multiple customers and prospects with ample time and attention paid to every visitor. The result? Both vendor and guests maximized the use of their time.

Formnext already hosts three events outside of Germany, in Russia, China, and Japan. Now, as “another important step in the event’s globalization,” comes expansion to the US in 2025. “In preparation for this, Formnext will, over the next few years, start to expand its presence in the United States with various formats and cooperations.”

Splitting out the North American 3DP market, and possibly a big chunk of the South American market, will diminish the size of Formnext’s annual show in Germany. Notably, the various formats signal the smaller, more intimate events vendors and attendees prefer.


What does this trend mean to you? 3DP vendors must rethink how marketing funds are spent, shifting to on-site hosted customer and prospect events. 3DP buyers should optimize their time and funds by enabling more staff to visit technology providers’ sites. 

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