I'm sure there are lots of cool things at NPE2015, but the coolest one I saw on opening day, March 23, was Arburg's freeformer. While it's been out for a while, it was sitting in the spotlight, complete with a young woman playing saxophone to get the crowd's attention and formally introduce this machine at NPE.
Arburg touts the freeformer's mobility, flexibility and diversity in manufacturing capabilities as reasons why it will be a big hit in the plastics industry. It offers users the opportunity to create fully functional parts immediately, making prototyping obsolete. It also offers users the freedom to meet demand for small batches and to use traditional resins, which makes it cost effective, as well.
Another advantage of the freeformer, which moldmakers might find a bit disconcerting, is that it produces prototype parts without a mold. That eliminates the cost of a pilot mold needed to produce prototype parts, which reduces overall product development time. Of course, there are benefits to making a prototype mold (which we won't go into here--you know what they are), but the fact is that new developments like Arburg's freeformer present a disruption to the moldmaking industry.
The quicker moldmakers recognize this and understand what 3D printing can do for them and their business, the better off they will be. I've been singing this tune for 20 years. I think the time has come for moldmakers to join in the chorus.