Public Release: 

3-D printing goes high speed and high volume

University of Sheffield

The world's first additive manufacturing (3D printing) machine that can make plastic parts as fast and as cheaply as traditional manufacturing is to be built by the University of Sheffield.

The machine will build parts up to three times larger and 100 times faster than current comparable additive manufacturing (AM) machines, making it capable of challenging conventional injection moulding for high volume production.

The £1million project - funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council - has the potential to transform both manufacture and distribution. Low cost, high volume additive manufacturing would enable parts to be made where they are needed, rather than produced centrally.

Professor Neil Hopkinson from the University of Sheffield's Faculty of Engineering says: "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 machine is based on a technology developed by Professor Hopkinson, who originally filed patents on the process as lead inventor at Loughborough University. The technology for HSS is being licensed to industrial machine manufacturers on a non-exclusive basis, with new machines being expected on the market from 2017/18.

The process, called high speed sintering (HSS), selectively fuses polymer powder layer by layer, similar to other AM processes. However, instead of using lasers, HSS prints 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.

The new machine will be able to make parts up to 1m3 - the size of a washing machine -which is three times bigger than existing machines. The speed will depend on the size of the product, but the team estimate that small components will be built at a rate of less than one second per part, allowing AM to compete with injection moulding for high volume manufacturing.

AM has advantages over injection moulding which makes the process more attractive, as Professor Hopkinson explains:

"With additive manufacturing you can make more complex parts and make each part unique," he says. "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."

The machine will initially be built in the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) before installation in the University's Centre for Advanced Additive Manufacturing (AdAM), of which Professor Hopkinson is Director.

Dr Andy Bell, from the AMRC's Design Prototype and Test Centre (DPTC), said: "This machine will be built completely from scratch, drawing on all the skills and expertise of our design engineers. We have been involved in developing machines with commercial partners in the past, but this will be the biggest machine we have ever created."

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Notes to editors:

Additive manufacturing

Commonly known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing was identified as one of the twenty-two competencies needed for the UK in high value manufacturing in a February 2012 report by the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK) entitled 'A landscape for the future of high value manufacturing in the UK'. It also is linked to the 'eight great technologies' identified by the Rt Hon David Willetts MP in his speech in January 2013, as Dr Willetts discussed how one of the eight, advanced materials, is fundamental to making AM possible. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/eight-great-technologies.

Engineering in Sheffield

The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Sheffield is one of the biggest in the UK. With seven departments and two interdisciplinary programmes covering all the engineering disciplines, 4,300 students, 950 staff and £50M annual research-related income from government, industry and charity, it is one of the best institutions in the world to study or do research in engineering. The Faculty has a long tradition of working with industry including Rolls-Royce, Network Rail and Siemens. Its industrial successes are exemplified by the award-winning Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), the £25 million Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC) and - jointly with Boeing - the new £43M Factory 2050, the UK's first fully reconfigurable digital factory. http://www.shef.ac.uk/faculty/engineering/

About the AMRC

The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing is a world-class centre for research into advanced manufacturing technologies used in the aerospace, automotive, medical and other high-value manufacturing sectors. The AMRC has a global reputation for helping companies overcome manufacturing problems and is a model for collaborative research involving universities, academics and industry worldwide. Its Design & Prototyping Group combines the skills of a world-class design team with the AMRC's expertise in machining, casting, welding, additive manufacturing, composites and structural testing to create a manufacturing design resource far beyond anything previously available in the UK. http://www.amrc.co.uk

The AMRC is a member of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a consortium of leading manufacturing and process research centres, backed by the UK's innovation agency, Innovate UK.

About the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800m a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change.

The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via research Councils UK.

About Loughborough University

Loughborough is one of the country's leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, putting it among the best universities in the world, and was named University of the Year in the What Uni Student Choice Awards 2015.Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education's 'table of tables' and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. It was 2nd in the 2015 THE Student Experience Survey and was named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

In 2015 the University will open an additional academic campus in London's new innovation quarter. Loughborough University London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will offer postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.

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