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Black Country Atelier's stand at Big Bang, surrounded by interested children.
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Black Country Aterlier's Big Bang stand on the first day of the event.
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Graham Tromans delivers a 3D printing seminar at Big Bang.
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IPF's 3D printed Doctor Who model - a main attraction at Big Bang.
The whole TCT + Personalize team decamped to our second home of Birmingham last week to support our TCT Bright Minds partner Black Country Atelier at one of the biggest children's science shows in the UK - the Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Fair.
Hosted by the NEC in Birmingham, Team TCT was as mentally prepared as possible for the thousands of schoolchildren, parents and educators that would be passing by the Black Country Atelier stand over the four-day event, all with questions about the fascinating industry of 3D printing.
Why were we there? Our duties and purpose shifted over the course of the four days. On Thursday and Friday we would be (figuratively) tackling as many teachers as possible about whether their class would be interested in participating in a series of seminars on the technology ably presented by Graham Tromans throughout the day, in addition to bringing their attention to TCT Show + Personalize's Bright Minds programme, in association with both Black Country Atelier and 3D Systems which provides the machines. Over the weekend, our role changed from promoting what we do to dealing with 100 questions a minute about 3D printing from everybody who passed by - and when I say 100 questions a minute, naturally many of these were the same questions repeated by fresh inquisitive faces.
Educators and kids in uniform
Day one began quietly, with tentative enquiries from shy schoolchildren and shouts of recognition from less timid pupils who wanted to tell us all about their school's 3D printer or to show off to their friends that they know all about 3D printing. This is no understatement, Team TCT was across the board very impressed with the depth of knowledge so many children have about the industry and just how well equipped many of them are and how quickly they would be able to get to grips with one of the machines we had on display such as the Up or the Cube given half the chance.
One of the main attractions - Freelance Education Consultant Paul Verdeyen's magnificent talent for storytelling aside - was the Kinect 3D scanner for the X-Box, which (unsurprisingly) practically every child wanted to try out. Sadly, there was not the capacity to scan and print nearly as many eager children as would have been ideal - something to build on next time perhaps?
A steady stream of enquiries and three full sessions for Tromans' talks filled the morning and early afternoon - but the hall began to empty after two o'clock as many school groups needed to be shepherded back onto their waiting coaches to deliver them back to school to ensure no parents or siblings were left waiting for the young scientists to return.
As such, Team TCT's duties ended earlier than expected and half those in attendance were given permission to follow the crowds as they made their way back to the station and the car park.
The other half of Team TCT were drafted in for Friday and Saturday and so this portion of the group returned to take the reins on Sunday without realising how much activity had escalated in the subsequent two days.
Questions, questions and more questions
What a difference a non-schoolday makes! Even though we arrived early, the walk was a thronging, snaking marathon of excited families heading for Halls 3 and 4. It was clear from the off that Sunday was going to be a different animal entirely and Team TCT - adept at trade-show-business - went straight for some sustenance before joining our Black Country Atelier friends on the stand.
The experience was akin to that of CES Unveiled in London in October 2013 in terms of the volume, pace and range of enquiries - except instead of half an afternoon it was an entire day and 'in the round'. Myself, Dan, DW, Paul Verdeyen and Graham Tromans hardly found time to grab a swig of water for our desiccated throats as we handled each question, theory, challenge and request in turn.
It wasn't as hard or as unpleasant as I make it sound thanks almost entirely to the enthusiasm of the children and equally their parents. Talking shop is always easy when the other party is brimming with wide-eyed excitement and ideas of their own to impart. The one-build cog system we had been printing as a demo enthralled literally every single child who got the chance to fiddle with it, and the look on their faces when they realised this plaything had not been assembled and had in fact been built with all the cogs ready-fitted was priceless and one I, personally, was happy to see again and again when a fresh face pushed to the front of the crowd every ten minutes. No wonder so many of them mysteriously disappeared throughout the day. Happily, we could just print another out.
The range of questions centred around a core bank of queries.
"How does it work?"
"How long does it take to print one of these?" (Said by child thrusting demo at you.)
"How much does it cost?" (Upon giving any answer, regardless of how expensive the child then looks hopefully at their parent.)
"Where can I get one?"
"Can you make ANYTHING?!"
"What's this?" (Child holds up messy blob of filament we haven't had time to move off the display after a failed build.)
"Can I have this?" (Child points at expensive demonstration model of Doctor Who character purposefully locked away in glass cabinet.) No, you may not.
In all, the experience was a world apart from the usual additive manufacturing trade show vibe we are accustomed to, but this is in no way a bad thing. These kids we've been talking to today could be giving TCT exclusive industry firsts and features to publish in a decade or two's time.