KTN’s Marketing Manager for Special Interest Groups, Alan Cowie, went along to the Additive Manufacturing SIG’s event looking at Large Scale AM.

When you think about Additive Manufacturing (or ‘3D Printing’ as the media prefer), you might be forgiven for thinking this emerging technology is only for the manufacture of small component parts, often complex in design. Indeed, this is one of the main benefits of AM. But this technology, still considered ‘new’, is developing rapidly and as industry demands more customised and optimised products, we are now only beginning to unpack the true capabilities and possibilities.

KTN’s Additive Manufacturing Special Interest Group (AM SIG) held an event in Birmingham to explore the drivers, challenges and opportunities when it comes to AM on a ‘Large Scale’, which is loosely defined as anything over 30cm in any dimension.

Over 100 delegates came together to network and hear from industry leaders engaging with AM using a variety of techniques and spanning materials including plastics, metals and concrete.

“Most of the opportunities are in technology development and reducing cost in order to move towards AM for low volume manufacturing, rather than just prototyping.” That was the message from Richard Minifie, a senior engineer at RICOH UK Products Ltd. He also said there was an opportunity for automation to remove costly processes such as bonding, smoothing and finishing. He described some of challenges facing them: the lack of standards, limited material choice, slow production time and lots of manual post processing. Minimizing distortion (especially at full capacity of the machine) is a considerable challenge. Right first time manufacturing is not always achieved and this cost must be absorbed by them.

GoPrint3D’s Kevin Askew echoed a number of the challenges facing AM on a Large Scale. His talk emphasised the importance of working closely with the client to understand their objectives, as this informs the manufacturing process. He said: “There are usually three objectives to consider: ‘Fast’ ‘Easy’ and ‘Fine surface finish’. You can normally only achieve two out of three with current the technology”.

Representing Metals, the TWI’s Carl Hauser said many of the issues around standards and quality assurance, production time and materials were prevalent in metals. “Metal powders are heavier, so handling the part needs additional consideration when moving into large scale applications.” New systems have more than one laser for Laser Metal Deposition so there’s questions around segmentation of the bed to increase productivity. How do you combine the lasers? Overlap, sequencing, quad lasers, or use lasers which cover the whole powder bed?

Dr Richard Buswell, a lecturer at Loughborough University, discussed how the construction industry has adopted the technology. “The main drivers for change are the large infrastructure projects coming online, the prospect of labour shortages and hazardous working environments”, said Richard. Printing with concrete is layer-based formation on site – depositing the material in situ, moving away from casting. This is not a cheap way of manufacturing, but the commercial interest lies in reducing lead-in time, which could help reduce project delays. Richard also mentioned applications with autonomous systems, citing the example of a new 12m bridge over a canal in Amsterdam which has been constructed with robotic arms jetting steel.

Delegates also heard from Natalie Wadley, co-founder of social enterprise ChangeMaker3D. The company, which provides 3D printing services, is re-investing profits into their RISE programme, which creates a social legacy by improving the mental health of ex-servicemen and women and disadvantaged young people. RISE – which stands for Reduce poverty, Increase equality, Sustain employment and Empower social value – is an in-house programme where individuals can learn 3D printing skills and receive support to re-integrate into the workplace and improve their emotional resilience. “It’s critical to demonstrate social value in the construction sector. Price and quality is no longer enough. Investors expect social value to be evidenced in the supply chain”, said Natalie.

After the networking lunch, delegates took part in a facilitated discussion looking at the key industrial challenges. The feedback from this session will be made available in due course.

A number of common themes came out of the event and it seems many of the challenges are shared across materials and sectors. KTN’s role is not to fix these problems, but to help bring business and research together to facilitate collaboration which sparks new ideas and creates business opportunities. Rob Sharman from GKN Aerospace summed it up nicely: “If you think the same, you’ll never win with Additive. It’s about thinking differently and events like these help people display how they’re thinking differently and you always come up with new ideas out the back of it.”

Meanwhile, plans are underway for more themed events later this year looking at AM on a Small (Micro) Scale and New Materials, so remember to sign up to receive news and information about these events.

Check out the event highlights:

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