3-D printing goes high speed and high volume

June 3, 2015, University of Sheffield

The world's first additive manufacturing (3-D 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 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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1 / 5 (1) Jun 03, 2015
"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."

Add delivery times to that.
Not needing huge inventories (and the capital to finance them) while knowing that new deliveries can be single digit days away from the order date instead of weeks or months will be transformative in and of itself
not rated yet Jun 04, 2015
How on earth are they going to get a meter size printing nozzle to move fast enough over the powder bed to build an object in one second?

Suppose it's a 1x1 cm cube with 50 micron layer height. That's 0.05 mm per layer so the machine has to pass over the printed part 200 times in one second, and to do that with a nozzle that spans a meter in length sounds like it would simply fly apart and rattle to pieces.

I suppose they mean that they can deposit an equal volume of material compared to the small part in less than one second, but it still takes more time to scan the build volume to actually produce it. Only, you can make many, so it comes out at say 100 parts per 100 seconds.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2015
@ Eikka - Anything is possible in a press release. A 1,587,950.00 US dollar (1396165.93 Euro)
machine to test a concept is a long way from cheap fast production.

The machine only prints ink, which uses very small or possibly multiple nozzles. These are very lightweight, and can be moved VERY quickly. Consider inkjet nozzles on steroids.

A round disk the size of a pencil eraser could be made in a second, if the thickness were very small, say .005 inches. (.127 mm) Not much complexity, but it can still be called a part.

They are trading inventories of parts and shipping costs for inventories of ink, plastic powder, and spare machine parts. With any capital machinery there of course maintenance, labor, energy costs, depreciation, installation costs, and other incidentals.

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