Oct 10, 2017 | By Benedict

AM UK, Britain’s independent, government-backed collaboration for developing the country’s additive manufacturing industry, has published its “Additive Manufacturing UK National Strategy 2018-25.” The document outlines what the UK must do to become a global leader in 3D printing.

The AM UK National Strategy outlines how Britain can become a global 3D printing leader

Additive manufacturing is widely prevalent across Europe, with giants of industry like EOS and Concept Laser driving innovation in the one corner, and more maker-oriented companies like Ultimaker and Prusa doing their bit for the consumer 3D printing community.

The continent is even home to a number of huge 3D printing services like 3D Hubs and Shapeways.

But while we frequently talk about 3D printing companies from Germany, the Netherlands, and a handful of other countries, the United Kingdom—at present, still very much a part of Europe—doesn’t get so much representation.

Of course, there’s plenty of additive manufacturing research at major universities like Oxford and Cambridge, and the country's share of the global AM market still edges most of its European rivals (besides Germany). It’s just that, given the country's resources, there doesn't seem to be enough happening on the commercial side.

And with Brexit about to send the island over a financial cliff edge, that might be a big concern for the national economy.

Thankfully, some Britons have a plan to put the UK on the additive manufacturing map, by fostering innovation and growth in the 3D printing sector. It’s called the “Additive Manufacturing UK National Strategy.”

Aiming to “bring together industry, academia, government, and finance bodies to provide a single ‘go-to’ place to access independent information and latest research,” the National Strategy seeks to establish the UK as a global leader in additive manufacturing, by “upskilling” the nation’s workforce and increasing the number of AM-equipped facilities around the country.

“The UK is amongst the global leaders in knowledge and successful application of additive manufacturing and AM UK has been at the forefront of developing its vast capabilities,” commented Dr. Paul Unwin, Chairman of AM UK. “AM has the potential to transform how and where manufacturing is done across a wide range of industrial sectors and global markets.”

An improved additive manufacturing industry could help soften the blow of Brexit upon the UK economy

Currently, the UK holds a 5 per cent share of the global 3D printing market, a number that Unwin and the AM UK team hopes to increase by a significant margin. The National Strategy estimates that Britain can claim up to 8 per cent ($6.5 billion), an improvement that would protect existing jobs and generate new ones.

But it’s not just about protecting workers. The National Strategy suggests that a focus on additive manufacturing could have significant knock-on effects for the UK economy.

“The UK government sees encouraging innovation as a key priority for helping our economy to grow,” Unwin said. “It has already supported research into AM with over £200 million ($264 million) of funding over the last five years—a vital investment which will help us to reshore services that have already disappeared overseas.”

There are, however, particular obstacles that the country must overcome to meet both its employment-related and economic targets. The first and most important problem, the report states, is the additive manufacturing supply chain.

“Although UK research and innovation in this technology is absolutely top flight, we haven’t had the supply chain, so many designers have found solutions abroad,” Unwin said. “The AM UK National Strategy aims to enable more to be done here. The strategy considers the entire supply chain, with efforts focused on producing the most effective outcome that will see a transformation in the way businesses operate.”

Another important part of the National Strategy is ensuring that British workers have the skills to operate additive manufacturing equipment, whether that be in 3D design, printer maintenance and operation, or other areas.

“One theme we will be focussing on is upskilling the workforce,” Unwin commented, suggesting that “more facilities around the UK” are needed to allow workers to gain these crucial 3D printing skills.

AM UK hopes its report will convince the British government to launch a national 3D printing scheme

Luckily, the groundwork is already there. 10 High Value Manufacturing Catapults have been established in the UK in recent years in order to help “bridge the gap between business and academia.” The facilities help promising students and researchers learn how to turn their scientific or engineering expertise into a marketable product—a strategy that can help introduce more UK 3D printing companies onto the global scene.

“The High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and specifically the National Centre for AM (hosted by the Manufacturing Technology Centre), can help industry to exploit the competitive advantage to be gained by using this technology with the help of AM UK,” Unwin said. “The collaboration will develop a strong network of additive experts in the UK to support knowledge transfer and create a showcase for additive manufacturing to demonstrate how well it works in practice.”

In addition to new facilities, an important part of “upskilling” the UK workforce will involve making the most of the country’s existing additive experts. That means encouraging students to work with the researchers who specialize in 3D printing, and putting those experts in positions of authority. Putting more AM-themed courses on school and university curricula will also be an important step.

Ultimately, Unwin and AM UK believe that the UK can use additive manufacturing as a tool to protect its economy during the potentially tumultuous process of leaving the European Union.

“As we head into Brexit, additive manufacturing can make a real change in the UK and we will be devising the training and education programs needed to provide the additive manufacturing engineers of the future,” Unwin said.

But if this is to happen, AM UK warns that the British government must put forward a serious strategy for pushing the national interest in 3D printing, convincing both public and private sector organizations to put their weight behind the scheme.

The Additive Manufacturing National Strategy document, published on September 26, can be read here.



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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Jim Spriggs wrote at 10/30/2017 10:39:05 AM:

It's a pity that Benedict decided to only name Oxford and Cambridge Universities' work, without leading with Nottingham and Warwick, two universities which are leading AM/3DP work at a global level.

MarcC wrote at 10/10/2017 3:35:33 PM:

But, so is everyone else!

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