Dec.2, 2012

UK government announced £7m for 3D print research through an open competition managed by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), the government's science and technology advisory body.

Although addive manufacturing has been described as revolutionary and game changing, actual take-up and market growth has been relatively slow. This competition aims to overcome some of these barriers – including the so-called dirty secrets' of additive manufacturing.

The TSB wants to encourage projects that tackle problems around cost, materials and prototypes, and other issues that are currently holding back 3D printing.

Robin Wilson, the Technology Strategy Boards lead technologist, says the competition could bring the existing problems in addive manufacturing to the bright light of day, and to come up with solutions to help the U.K.'s AM industry compete in the world markets with the likes of the U.S. and Germany.

Based on ASTM classifications there are seven different AM processes:

  • Powder bed fusion
  • Directed energy deposition
  • Material jetting
  • Binder jetting
  • Material extrusion
  • VAT photopolmerisation
  • Sheet lamination

So what are some of those dirty secrets the competition is addressing? Digital Manufacturing Report published a post where they exposed these additive manufacturing's dirty secrets in detail. Wilson says, "each AM processes has a different set of benefits and different challenges – each has its own "dirty secrets."

1. Unexpected pre- and post-processing requirements

The hype would have you believe that working with a CAD program, you can, in theory, create any shape you like – even one with complex internal geometries – and then just print it out with the push of a button.


However, the reality is far more complex. For example, suppose you are creating a complicated component using an AM process based on metal or plastic powder. When the external structure solidifies, it may not have the requisite internal support and the part distorts, rendering it useless. Engineers need to understand the weaknesses in the process and come up with a clever way to analyze the design to determine whether it needs temporary internal structural support – a process that should be automated.


Post-processing is another part of the AM mystique. Read an AM product brochure and you'd think that you just remove the part from its powder bed or from its base in a Fused Deposition Modeling machine and you're good to go. Not so, claims Wilson. "Post processing is very manually intensive and a lot more variable. In the world of short runs, this really doesn't matter. But when you get into even medium volume production runs, these issues become very important."

2. High cost of the process

High cost of the process, which correlates directly with the speed at which the parts are manufactured. One way to speed up deposition on AM systems based on a lasers or electron beams, is to use bigger increments – bigger layers, larger particle sizes, or more energy input. However, the dirty secret here is that this approach makes it difficult to control accuracy.

3. Lack of applicable AM industry standards - So same CAD design runs in machines from Eos, Objet or Stratasys, the results will differ.

4. Inconsistent material

Wilson notes that the other AM companies prefer that you use their consumables in order to achieve predictable results. And, of course, like the cartridges for ink jet printers, the sale of the proprietary materials ensures a continuous revenue stream for the company. What's needed is the creation of a supply chain that feeds into a number of different manufacturers, lowering both the cost and the risks associated with being dependent on a single vendor.

5. The failure to exploit the new design freedom offered by the technology

He points out that if you take existing components that are made, by metal forming or injection molding, trying to clone them using AM probably will not yield that much of an advantage. However, if you can design a part specifically for manufacture by AM, one that has higher functionality and better volumetric and material efficiency as well as incorporating some clever features that could not be made by conventional processes, then, says Wilson, you stand a better chance of creating a unique product and gaining a competitive advantage.

Wilson notes that "the today's situation is not necessarily bad; it's just a stage that the AM industry is currently moving through on the way to its next phase of maturation."

The competition opens on 3 December 2012 and the deadline for applicants to register is noon on 23 January 2013. To download the brief and view further information, visit TSB's site.



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