Professor Chris Tuck opens up the afternoon session on the UK Research and Innovation Day.
As the dust fully settles over the 11th Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Conference, hosted by the Centre for Additive Manufacturing at the University of Nottingham and Added Scientific Ltd (a spin-out company from the same group), we reflect on another impressive year of research and industrial progress from the conference that provides the forum to disseminate the reality of AM, without the hype.
The single session style of the conference has long preserved a special and personable feel to it, quite unlike many of the larger conference events in the calendar. Moreover speakers are carefully selected by the conference organisers which ensures top quality presentations from academic and industry experts who focus on the fundamental science, the business barriers, and also the logistical challenges associated with the development and implementation of AM.
The two day programme formal programme was preceded by a UK Research and Innovation Day and welcomed a number of high profile representatives from industry and academia with almost 300 delegates representing 18 countries. The exposition welcomed major industries in a 24 strong exhibitor show floor including: Hewlett Packard, General Electric Inspection Technologies, Nikon Metrology, LPW Technology, Materialise, Canon, Arcam and Renishaw, to name but a few.
The day before the conference hosted the UK Research and Innovation Day which welcomed a plethora of speakers from institutions across the length and breadth of the UK: Universities of Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, Cambridge, Nottingham, Birmingham, Exeter, Imperial College London, Cranfield and Heriot-Watt, coupled with talks from the Manufacturing Technology Centre and TWI. The session covered a number of topics of AM investigations, from regenerative medicine and tissue engineering strategies from Francesca Tallia, Kenny Dalgarno and Paulo Jorge Bártolo to multifunctional, polymer and metal focused AM research from the likes of Chris Tuck, Oana Gjita and Moataz Allah, respectively. Robin Wilson, Lead Technologist at Innovate UK, provided insight into the funding strategy of the innovation agency revealing to delegates candidly what they believed the future of AM and Industry 4.0 means and, more importantly, how and where they would be investing their core budget of £561m over 2016/17 period. Tim Minshall of Cambridge University’s Institute of Manufacturing gave an interesting dissection of the business and policy approach for AM. He said we needed to define the AM research agenda by linking the various technologies with manufacturing activity to drive sustainable innovation for businesses at a national level. He also highlighted some of the excellent work he is contributing to on the UK National Strategy for AM & 3DP and how this can inform policy decisions to ensure the UK remains well placed to be an international leader on AM.
The first day of the conference opened with a talk from Raymond “Corky” Clinton of NASA, Marshall Space Flight Centre. In what was a captivating presentation, Corky discussed the current initiatives NASA are implementing and also the experimental developments at NASA towards In Space Manufacturing (ISM). NASA’s vision for AM in their path to exploration is far reaching in that it is a technology that would enable ‘earth independence’ in space flight and exploration, a key enabler of future, far reaching, space exploration. Given the demands of space flight, many of the AM technologies are currently untenable options for NASA but Corky was good enough to bring a ratchet handle for conference delegates to see (one of 21 specimens already printed in space) which was made on the International Space Station using an FDM printer. As it costs roughly $20,000/Kg to send something into space, in space manufacturing will not only enable extended duration in space away from earth but could also make the endeavour significantly cheaper for future missions. In addition to their ISM initiative, NASA are working on developing AM for rocket engine space flight hardware. In a case study of a prototype propulsion system, using a design, develop, test and evaluation (DDT&E) approach, NASA were able to highlight the game-changing aspects of AM; the demonstrator engine projected costs were 1/10th of the development cost and resource, half the development lead time, a 1/6th of the production time and 1/10th of the recurring cost when compared to the current state of the art manufacturing processes – very impressive numbers. Corky mentioned NASA are due to publish some of their findings in the not so distant future – definitely one to look out for when it’s released.
Martin Wallace, Director of Technology Seeking at GSK, talks AM in future pharmaceutical manufacturing.
Immediately after Corky, Michael Gabi of Cytosurge took to the stage to talk about their FluidFM technology and it’s potential to deliver microscopic 3D metal printing (in addition to a plethora of other potential applications of the technology). Anyone familiar with Atomic Force Microscopy will immediately recognise and appreciate the benefits of FluidFM®. The technology essentially unites nanofluidics with atomic force microscopy to allow the delivery or retrieval of material through a 300nm “syringe tip”. Whilst far from an industrial process for 3D printing, it is however an exciting technological development (you want to read more on the applications of FluidFM® a paper on single cell extraction is available in Cell – although it’s behind a paywall). Given the content of the presentation I’m sure Cytosurge will be at the centre of some very interesting science in the future!
Later on, Martin Wallace of GlaxoSmithKline provided a Pharmaceutical perspective on what AM means to them. When I speak to people in the AM industry about the interest of Big Pharma in AM most reply “why on earth might you want AM for medicines?” Well, manufacturing is a huge part of what a pharmaceutical company does and technological innovation in manufacturing is significant to all the stakeholders from industry right through to patients. Think poly-pills to reduce the pill burden of patients with multiple conditions, think rapid prototyping of solid dosage forms to reduce R&D expenditure and lead time, think altered drug dissolution profiles for 3D printed dosage forms, think distributed manufacturing, think at-home printing. Some of these concepts are more feasible and realistic than others but the value proposition across the supply chain for the pharmaceutical industry is potentially massive. Given the challenges facing the sector as a whole there’s every reason for Pharma to be involved in AM. GSK already has significant involvement with research activity at the Centre for Additive Manufacturing at the University of Nottingham and the participation through a new EPSRC funded project “Formulations for 3D printing” it would appear GSK would very much like to lead from the front.
George Hopkins of Bristol based HiETA Technologies Ltd gave an overview on their activity including a current project with RobotbikeCo, Renishaw and Altair. Having established just 5 years ago their raison d’etre is to “design, engineer and industrialise solutions for AM”. In a frank presentation Hopkins criticised the ‘business myths of AM’, like the ever asserted “throwing away the old design rule book”, which you can, he added, “but the new one hasn’t been written, yet”. There was also some emphasis on process development, part inspection and quality assurance of components which we all know is a big challenge across the industry. HiETA clearly have their eyes on the value chain, they are seeking to produce AM parts in volume, to give customers confidence in AM as a reliable production process to fully maximise the value to their customers, and of course, their own commercial success.
Delegates enjoy the exposition break with 24 businesses on the exhibit floor.
The first day of the conference closed with a heavyweight double act of Professor Phil Dickens, of the Centre for Additive Manufacturing at University of Nottingham and also Co-director of the group’s spin-out company Added Scientific Ltd, and Terry Wohlers, Principal Consultant of Wohlers and Associates. Having both been involved in the industry for some time now their views are very highly regarded with the Wohlers report being the go-to resource for industry insight and future trends. Phil took us ‘from where we’ve been to where we’re going’, from rapid prototyping to topology optimised AM of plastic and metal components with a sneak peek into the future, into the output from the research group at Nottingham - the realm of “multi-functional AM”. Terry discussed the state of the AM industry, the emergence of new players, OEM’s and materials suppliers at both ends of the market, identifying the healthy trends in metal AM system sales in the last 5 years (808 machines sold in 2015) and the fact that the industry growth potential is still looking very good. Quoting figures from Stephen Nigro of HP, Terry stated that with global manufacturing worth an estimated $12.8 trillion, if AM can tap into just a small percentage of that, say around 5%, then the AM ecosystem can really flourish.
Professor Ian Ashcroft of the University of Nottingham (also Co-director of Added Scientific Ltd) opened the second day of the conference with a talk for the AM computational purists. Ashcroft outlined the importance of computational mechanics in supporting the new processes, products and design potential of AM. Ashcroft’s work covers topology optimisation, lattice structures, simulation, meshing and design for multi-functional additive manufacturing. He talked through a number of study examples where he is tackling some of the methodological challenges, from modelling the effect of scan strategies in SLM to coupling strategies for structure-system topology optimisations. The talk finished with a preview of some software under development at the University and Added Scientific Ltd which enables users to integrate triply periodic minimal surface (TPMS) lattices into components. Aptly named FLatt Pack (The Functional Lattice Package), the software offers the ability to input density graded and varied TPMS lattices (with over 16 lattice cell types to choose from) and produce an output file ready for additive manufacture. Given the mad rush to the Added Scientific stand shortly after to claim a free trial version, this software is clearly something of interest to the wider AM community.
The conference closed with a captivating and charismatic talk from Turlif Vilbrandt of Uformia. For those who’ve seen Turlif before or caught his TedX talk online you’ll recognise his brand of delivery which does away with endless text filled slides and instead flows through images and live demonstrations. Turlif and Uformia are challenging the paradigms of existing modelling principles which Turlif says are detrimental to innovation, productivity and the adoption of AM technologies. Unlike original polygonal approaches to modelling reality, Uformia have developed a platform which appreciates the shortfall in current multiscale design and modelling and targets machine to robot communication for digital manufacturing, at any scale. Using a mathematical volume-modelling approach engenders a more innovative approach to make organic and mathematical designs which are also ‘watertight’, ready for Additive Manufacture.
Whilst the 11th Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Conference has not long drawn to a close, work is already underway for next year’s conference. Delegates can expect another stellar selection of speakers from across the AM space, high quality discussion and networking with a great exposition of industry exhibitors relevant to anyone involved in AM. To be kept in touch with updates regarding the 2017 event, visit www.am-conference.com.