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APMG Promotes the Future of Manufacturing with 3D Printing Parliamentary Roundtable

APMG Promotes the Future of Manufacturing with 3D Printing Parliamentary Roundtable

13th June 2018

This week the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group brought together policymakers, parliamentarians, manufacturers large and small, and academics to discuss the important topic of how 3D printing will change manufacturing in the UK and how this exciting new technology can be supported by government.

The meeting heard how exciting developments in 3D printing - or additive manufacturing (AM) - can lead to reshoring of manufacturing to the UK and have significant environmental benefits. However, we also explored the barriers to adopting the new technology, from standards and regulations, to skills and incentives, there were plenty of takeaways for the government and policy-makers on how to support this effort.

The Opportunity

HP opened the event by presenting research that they had done in collaboration with AT Kearney, which showed that the UK is an international leader in terms of technology and capabilities, but also in terms of readiness to adopt AM technology, the UK is currently 3rd globally and 2nd within Europe after Germany. With this background it is therefore surprising to hear that 3D printing isn’t referred to in the government’s Industrial Strategy and many at the event were unaware that there was already an Additive Manufacturing Strategy. Other European countries offer higher levels of support and incentives, yet the UK remains ahead because of the high activity levels in the UK industry – particularly in academia and in the start-up sector.

The Environment

The meeting also heard that 3D printing presents many environmental benefits and opportunities to reduce the impact of manufacturing on the planet in line with the government’s Clear Growth Strategy. Comparing additive to conventional subtractive manufacturing, the new technologies can lead to incredible reductions in materials waste by using only the amount of material required to produce a part. The HP/AT Kearney research shows that 3D printing could reduce global CO2 emissions by 130.5 million tonnes by 2025 by reducing shipping of parts, reduced tooling in pre-production and material wastage. In addition the novel manufacturing technology combined with computer aided design can mean that parts can be designed to be much lighter and use less material than their conventional counterparts whilst retaining strength and capabilities – when these parts are used in industrial processes there can be significant energy efficiency savings, with the weight of components being reduced by up to 90% by the use of 3D printing. Finally, HP told the meeting how the materials in its open materials database can be recycled, allowing 3D printing parts to be ground down into plastics that be reused in a circular economy.

Moving Forwards

The benefits and exciting possibilities of 3D printing are clear – but our attendees also told the parliamentarians present about the challenges that face the sector. Alex Monino (Vice President, Global Strategy and Business Management, 3D Printing HP) told how the 3D printing sector now faces the typical chasm associated with technology adoption, where it has to move from small-scale adoption to wide-spread industrial use. Alex identified 6 key levers of technology adoption – the first three are unlocking “hygienic” factors: product capabilities, price and material selection. The second 3 are the accelerators: Designing for AM, disrupting supply chains, and standards & policies. The meeting of the APMG then heard a discussion on what the government can do to help drive these levers of adoption for 3D Printing.

People & Skills

The 3D printing industry require trained professionals both on the design side and the manufacturing sides and the EEF described how most businesses identify skills shortages in these areas. However, attendees also told how universities in the UK and internationally are teaching undergraduate units on AM, and some even have masters courses in 3D printing, therefore the long-term flow of trainees is secure. The biggest challenges remain in retraining those already in the workforce to use these novel technologies. There are still gaps in the government’s retraining and reskilling provision, and the short-term need for people already on the shop-floor to be trained is unfulfilled. The MTC in Coventry described how they offered a course that included aspects of AM to employers which had to be cancelled due to lack of take-up, whereas university Doctoral Training Centres on AM are at capacity, demonstrating that gap between the long- and short-term skills gaps.

Another critical factor that is currently limiting the take-up of AM is that there are not enough people at the director-level within businesses who truly grasp the benefits of these technologies. Graeme Bond of FDM Digital Solutions pointed out that a much bigger national effort to reach out to businesses to drive this productivity improvement is needed. For SMEs demonstrator projects such as those proposed as part of Juergen Maier’s Made Smarter Review have proved particularly useful in the past. It is easy to convince an engineer of the benefits of 3D printing – they grasp the advantages instinctively – but convincing management in firms to make a financial commitment can be a roadblock to adoption. This is further reinforced if a company requires business model transformation at the same time to capitalise on the on-demand and customisable nature of AM.

Incentives

The attendees at the meeting all believed that there was significant scope for government to put in place incentives to innovation and adoption of additive manufacturing technologies. Other international players have committed to this approach, such as Italy who offer a tax reduction on 3D printing equipment. Potential strategies that could be adopted here would be around tax breaks on capital expenditure particularly targeted at AM or the availability of central grants for the purchasing of equipment.

George Brasher (Managing Director UK&I, HP Inc) pointed out that adoption of new tech is the management of change, and incentives that bolster the business case for companies can have significant results. He also made the point that the government could play a part in creating and securing the market by targeted incentives through the Crown Commercial Service (CCS) by creating provisions for the procurement of 3D printed manufactured products.

Standards

Another common issue with the scale-up of novel technologies is around the formation of standards. If, for example, an automotive manufacturer wishes to incorporate AM components into production, it must know the material characteristics of the component, verify its performance in crash tests, and critically for 3D printed parts know that this is reproducible from part to part.

Gareth Edwards of the National Physical Laboratory spoke about the standardisation and measurement development that is currently ongoing to support the commercialisation of AM. There is a reluctance to take on new technology because of uncertainties in standards and confidence in materials and processes. This must be de-risked through national and international standards – David Wimpenny of the Manufacturing Technology Centre spoke of how critical international collaboration is in this space.

Given the infinite possibilities presented by 3D printed objects and the tuneable nature of the manufactured parts there are challenges around how to reliably and reproducibly measure material properties. This standardisation work must be done before wide-spread adoption can occur and is already ongoing in industry and the academic sector.

Conclusion

3D printing presents a range of exciting futures for manufacturing in the UK, and on an international stage the UK is a serious player in the sector with a strong combination of start-up activity and academic excellence. 3D printing holds the prospect of reshoring British manufacturing, reducing carbon dioxide emissions and transforming manufacturing to an on-demand service, yet there are barriers too.

As Joseph Flaig wrote in Professional Engineering after the event: “The UK could become the world leader in 3D printing – but only if issues with the technology, political assistance, regulations, training and boardroom understanding are overcome.”

It is clear that the government and policymakers could have significant impact by looking at the areas identified here through the Industrial Strategy to de-risk the area and smooth the path for adoption of this novel manufacturing technology.

The All-Party Manufacturing Group would like to thank our partners HP Inc for supporting this event, and will continue to work with manufacturers and policy-makers in this exciting area.

Recommendations from the Roundtable

  • The government should capitalise on the UK’s readiness – 2nd in Europe – in 3D printing
  • The Industrial Strategy should focus cross-departmental resources on supporting the adoption of additive manufacturing technologies in UK manufacturing
  • The government must urgently consider support for in-work retraining to ensure those already in the workforce have access to up-skill
  • The UK should review the range of incentives for technology adoption, such as capital expenditure and R&D tax credits, on an international basis in which other European countries are offering significant tax breaks to manufacturers
  • Collaboration between government and industry on measurement and standards for 3D printed components and materials should continue to de-risk the adoption of additive manufacturing in industrial processes