In an emerging field there are bound to be many firsts, but undoubtedly being the first to publish a book on a particular aspect of additive manufacturing - in this instance the production of end use products - is not to be sniffed at.
This is why Professor of Manufacturing Engineering at the University of Sheffield Neil Hopkinson will be a valuable addition to TCT Show & Personalize this September, as his presentation looks to investigate the bearing of academia in an industry that is becoming more and more commercial.
Hopkinson's expertise in additive manufacturing technology are not only among the few to be published in a book, but the lead inventor of high-speed sintering technology has also used his grey matter to secure more than £3.5 million in Government funding. Moreover, he has scooped numerous awards for his work and ideas. He revealed that his presentation title for his TCT Show speech What's the Relevance of Academia in an Increasingly Commercial Sector aims to discuss how the research conducted at universities around the world will continue to shape the additive manufacturing industry.
"My talk will be very much 'what it says on the tin'," he said. "I will explain the influence of academia on the formation and growth to date of this fascinating sector and then, drawing on the opinions of many colleagues from both industry and academia, provide a view of how academia should continue to play its role in the future."
What academia can do
Hopkinson believes that no matter what sector you work in - 3D printing included - people need to be disciplined enough to "take a step back" once in a while to work out what they and their colleagues are doing and "sanity check" to ensure that the efforts being made are in fact making positive changes.
"A talk like this is a good opportunity to do just this and to share with an important audience a balanced picture of what academia can and should do - and what it really does," he stated.
Hopkinson is looking ahead to his TCT Show speech and is eager to say his piece in front of a "well informed and important audience of industrialists", which suits the expert down to the ground, as he revealed he is most excited about additive manufacturing's industrial applications at the moment.
"I am personally very excited to be embarking on a project supported by the Technology Strategy Board and within an excellent set of industry partners seeking to develop applications ranging from aerospace to fast-moving consumer goods," he commented, adding that the industrial applications are exciting on another level, as they are being recognised by the financial sector and on the stock markets.
Indeed, Hopkinson feels strongly that additive manufacturing is an economic driver for the UK and further afield in the not-so-distant future.
"Undoubtedly [it is an economic driver], but we should go for the low-hanging fruit. There are some massive applications waiting for us to make them happen," he urged.
Understanding the "serious stuff"
Hopkinson feels strongly that it is the industrial side of additive manufacturing that will experience the widest take-up in the coming years, but acknowledged that even though millions of pounds of big business deals are taking place to make this happen, the general public is still relatively ignorant to the highly technical developments that are reshaping industry as they know it.
"The biggest impact of this sector will be in the industrial adoption of additive manufacturing, which is less suited to the media. That's where TCT Magazine plays such an important role. The readership understands the really serious stuff."
He added: "[But], inevitably, the low-end 3D printer sector is generating most of the headlines as machines are cheap and the big picture can be portrayed in media-friendly sound-bites."
As an academic, Hopkinson is plugged into higher education and therefore understands the value of training and nurturing the next wave of additive manufacturing experts and innovators, but he acknowledges there is a long way to go to ensure the UK at least is leading the way as the technology continues to advance.
"We're getting there. Educating a new generation of specialists is an evolutionary process but I think we are doing a decent job of it. Many of my undergraduates and post-graduate students are now contributing to the sector in industry and academia," he said.
Neil Hopkinson will take to the TCT Show stage on the afternoon of Wednesday September 25th and is looking forward to joining in the additive manufacturing debate.
"The days - well actually it was one day - of ending a talk and signing copies of a book were brief and a long time ago," he reminisced, "I expect to be cornered and grilled with questions that people should really have asked openly at the end of the talk."