UK industry needs to ‘get on board’ with 3D printing ©123RF
UK industry needs to ‘get on board’ with 3D printing ©123RF

Taskforce to boost 3D printing in supply chains

7 November 2017

A new government-backed body has been created to support the use of 3D printing in UK manufacturing supply chains.

Additive Manufacturing (AM) UK is a collaboration between industry, academia and government to help support the use of 3D printing technologies in the UK. The group’s national strategy aims to unify approaches towards the technology across sectors to speed up adoption.

Dr Paul Unwin, chairman of the AM UK strategy steering group, told SM the UK was a leader in developing 3D printing technology but was not in front when it came to helping manufacturers deploy AM.

Unwin said: “What we’ve now got to do is take all that great technology and make it so industry can exploit it.

“And UK industry really needs to get on board because if it doesn’t get on board, if you look at Germany, or Italy, or South Korea, or Japan or America, they are adopting additive manufacturing from the top down.” 

The group’s national strategy outlines a number of challenges manufacturers face across sectors, including access to finance, help developing designs appropriate for printing and upskilling the workforce.

“It’s not as simple as buying an additive manufacturing piece of equipment, putting it in your business… and out pops something that’s going to be commercially valuable,” said Unwin, who has previously worked on 3D printing at a medical implant manufacturer. 

“I’m a classic example – we all thought this was going to be nearly as simple as that, but actually it is much, much harder.” 

AM UK plans to engage with government and regulators to deal with industry-specific regulations and certification that might be barring the use of 3D printed components in some sectors.

However, many of the technical problems manufactures face are similar arcoss sectors, said Unwin. “We really just provide the infrastructure to help focus our attentions on those challenges that really need to be addressed, otherwise government will have 1,000 companies knocking on their door, all with something very slightly different,” he said.

“What we are doing is picking all of this up, looking at all those nuances and grouping them up.” 

Unwin said when he first started working on 3D printing, the UK supply chain was not knowledgeable enough to help him take his products forward. “All of our manufacturing of medical devices was done in Italy, our testing was done in Germany and we were considering developing our research and development in the US,” he said.

Now, he said, the UK supply chain is building but Brexit has provided a new impetus.

“In some ways Brexit has forced our arm to be more dependent on what we have in the UK,” he said. 

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