Following more than ten years as a researcher in the UK steel industry, James Hunt moved to the University of Sheffield helping to expand the reach and capability of the innovative metals processing group.
James was instrumental in expanding the facilities of the centre’s advanced manufacturing techniques ranging from inkjet printing to metal injection moulding, additive manufacturing and electron beam welding.
Since moving to the AMRC in 2016, he has been responsible for establishing a combined strategy for the complete additive manufacturing process chain from powder through to finished part, helping supply chain companies to explore the possibilities of AM.
The UK’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) consists of seven world-class centres of industrial innovation that works collaboratively with industry and academia to deliver new manufacturing solutions across a broad range of technology areas. Helping to maintain the UK’s position as one of the global leaders of Additive Manufacturing (AM) is one of the HVMC’s key strategic objectives and the collective activities of the HVMC are very much aligned towards removing the barriers to the adoption of AM by; developing new material & process capabilities, de-mystifying some of AM’s dirty secrets, enabling technology solutions across the supply chain and through providing access to capability & expertise to allow companies to de-risk their journey towards the adoption of AM.
Each of the seven centres has specific specialisms in certain technologies, processes or sectors and some of the key research topics will be highlighted in this article. There are also a number of cross centre initiatives aimed at addressing some of the challenges identified within the AM UK National Strategy document, where leveraging the combined capability and geographical reach of the HVMC can deliver maximum impact for industry. A good example of this is how the HVMC has been working with the KTN (Knowledge Transfer Network) to host a series of AM awareness events across the country. Helping companies to understand what the opportunities are for utilising AM within their business and providing real world examples of how other companies are already exploiting the technology. Following on from this we have now developed a suite of Business & Technology support packages that will be used to assist companies on topics such as; product suitability for AM, technology selection and business case assessment.
Centres of Excellence
The MTC hosts the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing (NCAM) providing a leading role in setting the research agenda, and developing the technology and systems required to address the key challenges within the AM Value chain. It is home to the European Space Agency (ESA) AM Benchmarking centre and is also one of the ASTM’s Centres of Excellence contributing towards the development of national and international standards for AM. Major research programmes include DRAMA, a £14.3m collaborative research project providing a digital reconfigurable AM facility which allows aerospace supply chain companies to learn, model and validate end-to-end process chains. One of the key outputs from this project is the creation of an AM Knowledge Hub, an open access site containing valuable resources covering topics such as health & safety, design guides and technology overviews.
CPI focuses on the development of materials for AM, which includes novel thermoplastic blends for fused deposition modelling (FDM) and thermosets for vat photopolymerisation (SLA). This has allowed CPI to expose SMEs in the North East region to the benefits of AM while formulating bespoke materials for their specific applications. Areas of note are development of biodegradable polymers for single-use applications, biocompatible polymers for biomedical modelling, increased functionality through inclusion of nanomaterials and exploring the mechanical properties of polymer AM parts experimentally and by simulation (FEA). CPI is also part of an IUK funded consortium developing materials for 3D printing batteries via SLA. The key area of focus is using AM to deposit the battery cell active materials whilst also introducing controlled porosity to achieve greater control over device functionality and thereby improving battery cell performance.
Further development of new materials is taking place over at the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), this time with metallic materials where new alloy systems are being developed for both wire and powder deposition processes. Via the Innovate UK (IUK) funded project IMPACT, WMG has worked with industry to develop a novel 3D printer that combines deposition of polymer based materials and electrically conductive inks, enabling the production of fully functional electro-mechanical parts. While in another IUK project WMG are applying their expertise in CT and laser scanning towards the development of a platform to enable the cost-effective and efficient finishing of metal powder bed components, and providing a cloud-based marketplace for delivery of the platform.
The Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) is performing research into remanufacturing via the use of laser metal deposition (LMD), this has included various projects with the Oil & Gas sector and for high value tooling. IUK funded project, DigiTool, has created a digital closed loop Remanufacturing framework, with the full integration of scanning metrology, LMD and adaptive machining, all within a digital infrastructure. The end user case was a forging die repair, which was repaired around the flash lands and cavity resulting in greater than 100% improvement on die life. This demonstrates how AM can be used by traditional manufacturing industries to complement and improve their existing manufacturing processes. Further work with key industrial partners including BP, Shell, Total, Equinor, Technip FMC has resulted in a guideline for AM for the oil and gas and maritime industry. Which has now been published as a standard (DNVGL-ST-B203).
The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has a world-class reputation for research into machining science, it is now applying that knowledge to metal AM processes to ensure a seamless integration between deposition and finish machined part. This includes modelling & simulation of the processes to predict residual stress and distortion, mitigating the impact of this on the final part via careful planning of the laser scan parameters and the tool
path. There is also more fundamental research taking place on the machinability of the materials, working with the likes of Seco Tools to understand if specific tooling inserts might be required to maximise productivity. This knowledge then feeds back into the design process to ensure that features generated in the CAD environment are compatible with downstream processing.
Although the NCC focusses mainly on the development of manufacturing technologies for composites, there are still opportunities to work in the field of AM. For example FDM processes can be used to create highly complex conformal honeycomb structures, the NCC is investigating how these can be incorporated into composite sandwich panels to deliver superior performance to conventional panels. Another research programme exploring the application of large format FDM printing for the rapid fabrication of composite layup tooling providing a viable alternative to traditional hard metal tooling which can be expensive and has long lead times.
The Nuclear AMRC focusses on the use of industrial-scale directed energy deposition (DED) capabilities for the manufacture, customisation or repair of large components – an approach termed Bulk Additive Manufacture. Defining characteristics, such as high deposition rates, are derived from high-integrity techniques, using arc, power beam and solid-state methods, to de-risk, accelerate and promote reliable and robust technologies into the power generation industry and other sectors with similar large-scale requirements. Collaborative R&D programmes, such as the Additive Manufacturing Optimisation and Simulation (AMOS) project, which focussed on developing a DED platform for prolonging component service life and reducing repair costs, demonstrate how the Nuclear AMRC is delivering high impact results, through strategic national and international partnerships.
The capability and expertise of these HVMC centres is open to all UK manufacturing companies, so if you have a challenge area that is preventing you from exploiting AM, we would be delighted to work with you on delivering a solution.