Lockdown to Recovery: Fulfil your potential with Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM)
Materials used to manufacture components is a key area for ensuring efficient production and optimum performance. Additive Layer Manufacturing can have a large impact on the way products are developed and produced. For example, enabling the creation of lighter, stronger parts and systems. In this article, we discuss the opportunities and challenges of Additive Layer Manufacturing and how ASTUTE 2020 provided support to a Welsh manufacturing company with their medical device aimed at treating COVID-19 patients.
What is Additive Layer Manufacturing?
Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM), also known as 3D printing, is a family of near-net-shape manufacturing techniques used to build 3D geometries, layer by layer, directly from computer models. ALM techniques cover a wide range of materials and processes:
- Direct Deposition techniques deposit and fuse material onto a substrate, adding successive layers to build the final geometry. Materials range from thermoplastics, typically in the form of wire or pellets which are heated via an extrusion nozzle, to metal alloys in the form of powders or wire which are heated and fused by an electric arc, laser, or electron beam.
- Powder-Bed Fusion techniques are typically used for metallic components; a laser or electron beam is used to selectively melt a single layer of a 3D model in a bed of metallic powder, the bed is lowered, a new layer of powder is spread on top, and the process is repeated until the final component is removed from the un-sintered powder.
- 3D Stereolithography uses a UV laser or other light-emitting device to selectively cure layers of a liquid photopolymer resin bath.
ALM techniques are constantly being improved and expanded to new material systems, this fast-moving area of manufacturing technology has potential applications in every sector of industry.
What are the Opportunities and Challenges of Additive Layer Manufacturing?
- Compared to conventional manufacturing techniques, ALM enables superior geometrical complexity, reduced lead times, and less waste production.
- Applications of ALM include rapid prototyping, on-demand manufacturing, easy design iteration, and complex geometries/properties that would be too costly or impossible to manufacture conventionally.
- Challenges include a lack of repeatability and industrial standards, ALM is not suitable for high-volume manufacturing.
What are the Benefits/Impacts of Incorporating This Technology?
Incorporating ALM technologies can enable manufacturers to eliminate tooling costs, lower energy consumption, and produce less waste. ALM also integrates well with industry 4.0 environments and promotes lean manufacturing practices (on-demand manufacturing can lower the need for physical inventory storage by up to 90%).
ALM is not just limited to revolutionising the way things are made, it enables manufacturers to completely rethink the way products are designed.
How Is ASTUTE 2020’s Expertise Incorporating This Technology into The Welsh Manufacturing Sector?
ASTUTE 2020 have extensive expertise and access to several additive manufacturing processes including Laser Powder-Bed Fusion (for the ALM of metals), polymer Direct Deposition, and 3D Stereolithography. ASTUTE 2020 can work directly with manufacturing companies on all aspects of ALM from concept to manufacture of components. Examples of work carried out in collaboration with manufacturing companies include the optimisation of components, exploration of the suitability of ALM from an existing product, and investigation of the mechanical properties and microstructures of ALM components.
A prime example of ALM’s capability to enable rapid response to manufacturing needs was highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a sudden surge in demand for ICU respirators, as well as replacement components, ALM facilities can quickly respond to the design and manufacturing challenges and act as an initial source of components until larger, high-volume factories can re-tool and start production. ASTUTE 2020 was approached by a manufacturing company to assist with the development and manufacture of ICU respirator components. Despite the challenges posed by most of the ASTUTE team working from home, the collaboration enabled the company to trial and modify their design, which was then printed within three days.
ASTUTE 2020 can support manufacturing companies across a variety of sectors, such as aerospace, automotive, energy generation, oil and gas, medical devices, electronics, foods, etc., stimulating growth by applying advanced engineering technologies to manufacturing challenges driving cutting-edge research and innovation. ASTUTE 2020 collaborations inspire manufacturing companies to improve and streamline their manufacturing processes, manufactured products and supply chain, generating sustainable, higher-value goods and services and bringing them to a global market.
The ASTUTE 2020 operation has been part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government and the participating Higher Education Institutions.