Sheffield University's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre will lead $1million additive manufacturing project.
The University of Sheffield has unveiled its plans for the world’s first additive manufacturing machine capable of producing plastic parts as fast and as cheaply as traditional manufacturing.
Set to be developed at the university’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), the £1million project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council aims to produce a new machine that has the potential to transform both manufacture and distribution.
The proposed machine, set to be the university’s biggest machine yet, will build parts up to three times larger and 100 times faster than current comparable additive manufacturing machines, making it a worthy contender alongside conventional injection moulding for high volume production.
The machine is based on a technology developed by Professor Hopkinson from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering. The process, high speed sintering (HSS), selectively fuses polymer powder layer by layer using infra-red-absorbing ink onto a powder bed. Once a layer has been printed, it is exposed to infra-red light, which heats the powder covered by the ink, causing it to fuse, while the rest of the powder remains cool.
Professor Neil Hopkinson, commented: “Additive manufacturing is already being used to make tens of thousands of a product – such as iPhone covers – and ten years ago that volume was unthinkable. This machine will enable serious production of volumes over one million, which is currently inconceivable. I believe history will repeat itself and in ten years’ time, producing volumes over a million using additive manufacturing will be commonplace.”
The team estimates that small components will be able to be built at a rate of less than one second per part. The new machine will be able to make parts up to 1m3, three times bigger than existing machines – about the size of a washing machine.
Professor Hopkinson added: “With additive manufacturing you can make more complex parts and make each part unique. You can also make the parts where they are needed, which reduces transport costs. Additive manufacture also limits the risks involved. With injection moulding, you have to make tools, which is expensive and has to be done in advance. With AM, you miss out that stage, moving straight from design to manufacture.”
Once the project is completed at the AMRC, the machine will be installed in the University’s Centre for Advanced Additive Manufacturing (AdAM).