This week was AMNet's 10th gathering since the first event of its kind in January 2010.
Professionals from the UK's additive manufacturing industry congregated for a catch-up involving coffee, cookies and collaborative thinking.
Despite Liverpool University's Chris Sutcliffe describing the event as the TCT Show "but without the bar", this was TCT's first ever appearance at an AMNet event, so we were keen to see how useful it would be and what burning issues would be on the table to be hotly debated.
This week's networking gathering was hosted by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) on the outskirts of Coventry in Ansty Park. The solitary monolithic structure of the MTC is impressive to say the least, while the cathedral-like lobby we mingled in was everything you would expect from a place that is meant to be the bastion of manufacturing innovation for the UK's industry. Shiny, slick and sci-fi cool.
Upon collecting their visitor passes, those on the attendee list instantly darted like heat-seeking missiles to the beverages and baked goods. Indeed, a lot of the initial meeting and greeting took place as little groups encamped by the plinth topped with a generously-filled basket of chocolate chip biscuits.
The group of nearly 50 people from various different parts of the sector was a better-than-expected split of ages, backgrounds and genders and there were nearly 40 different organisations and universities being represented.
Indeed, the room full of managers, professors, engineers, salespeople and researchers made for a veritable meeting of minds, which is precisely what the first speakers at the event Robin Wilson of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and Robert Scudamore of TWI wanted the gathering to be.
The notion of community and the sharing of ideas came up a lot in the debates in the morning's sessions.
"Could we not do a little bit more cooperatively?" Mr Wilson asked the room during his TSB seminar.
There seemed to be widespread agreement from at least the most vocal members of the gathering.
Renishaw's Jeremy Pullin agreed that what seems to be missing from the industry at present is a means of collectively collating all the information so many different companies have been gathering in order to help others in the same position, saving time and money.
Mr Sutcliffe also believed that a unified approach to dealing with information would benefit everybody. "The projects I have been involved in have always been relatively open ... I have people come to me asking how I have overcome problems and I do not think it is a bad thing that different projects communicate."
The second of the morning sessions concerned the Additive Manufacturing European Strategic Research Agenda, which again led to some interesting cross-room debates concerning whether additive manufacturing should be applied to the technique universally, or whether 3D printing is a better term - even though many believe the latter refers to what Mr Wilson helpfully categorised as "toys".
This debate concluded just in time for lunch and more networking and by this point the atmosphere was much more relaxed than the initial flurry of handshakes and business cards around the coffee urn in the morning.
Putting public money to good use
We returned for a series of more talks, the first from Martin Baumers of Nottingham University on EPSRC CIM in AM and 3D Printing and the second by Mr Sutcliffe on EPSRC CIM in Laser-based Production Processes. The experts in their respective fields went into the subjects of grant funding, outreach programmes for the UK additive manufacturing community and recent developments. Finally, David Wimpenny of the MTC took to the floor to introduce the Centre and what the government-funded organisation does.
"Tax payer cash was used for this centre and we make sure that investment is returned," he stated.
Mr Wimpenny touched on the machinery within the behemoth-like structure and the important work the MTC carries out, adding that the current range of projects in action are "very aerospacey".
He rounded off proceedings by discussing some of the areas the industry needs to look at as a whole, including the issue of surface finish, which the vast majority of attendees agreed was one of the "dirty secrets" of the outwardly faultlessly impressive technology.
Even if there is still a great deal of work to be done in this fast-paced sector, which is only picking up speed, the attendees seemed proud of what the sector has achieved thus far.
Mr Wimpenny said: "We've gone from having three members to 50 members. It's important we are part of a bigger network of contacts."
The day's AMNet event concluded - after a brief fire drill and some vexation with the electronic security gates - with a tour of the MTC facility before we all shook hands and went our separate ways.
AMNet seemed to be approached by all attendees as a fantastic opportunity for showcasing new projects, problem-solving and business advancement - a forum where ideas are not jealously guarded and a group mentality is key and it seems likely TCT will return to stay up-to-speed and exercise the grey matter.