The 9th International Conference for Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing was a hotbed of future technology, business models, medical developments, industrial design and intellectual property.
Priding itself on bringing together industry experts, the event was packed with more than 300 people in attendance hailing from more than 20 countries, all getting involved with three key topics: IP, collaboration and, of course, materials.
Underpinning each of these themes was the importance of innovation, which was universally agreed to be the key factor in the economic success and viability of the Additive Manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing industry and the products it helps to create.
IP is not a new issue for additive manufacturing, but while people are still comparing the challenges to those of the record industry and the rise of iTunes, it was clear throughout the conference that everyone recognised that – even on a consumer level – 3D printed objects are not the same as music downloads.
Nicola Searle from the Intellectual Property Office called for us not to panic about IP rights, but to innovate and develop new business models.
Management professor from RWTH Aachen University, Frank Pillar epitomised this challenge, opening the conference with his call for innovation in ‘mass customisation’ technology to make it a more viable business model. He noted that start-ups and entrepreneurs are responsible for 85 per cent of innovation in AM and 3DP as they are less risk averse than big business.
Pillar also noted that the availability of IKEA’s designs online need not be a destructive factor for the famous Swedish furniture purveyors, but rather a challenge to equate their brand with service and customer experience – not just furniture designs.
Maarten van Lierop from Philips echoed this challenge for consumer engagement and new business models. In his presentation, he discussed Philips latest advancements in ‘smart’ lighting solutions which tap into the ‘Internet of Things’ to control lights from smartphones.
Alongside its products, Philips is putting consumers at the helm of lighting design by allowing them to create, view and purchase their ideal customer lighting solutions through Philips’ online portal.
Promoting the future
William Hoyle from Techfortrade emphasised the importance of opening up the industry to support the developing world’s efforts in using the technology to combat poverty by promoting entrepreneurialism, shortening supply chains to provide greater access to consumer goods we take for granted and building 3DP machines from recycled parts.
Barrister and associate professor at Bournemouth University, Dr Denusha Mendes discussed the complexities of copyright law and even provided us with the legal definition of originality – it requires the involvement of skill, labour, effort and judgement.
Entrepreneur and founder of Chillango (publishers of of Angry birds), Joe Wee embodied the call for innovation, using the conference to launch his latest business endeavour, Things 3D.
The business will bring licensed 3D printed characters – complete with built-in interactive chips – allowing consumers to engage with their favourite digital characters both in the physical and online worlds.
Innovation is not the reserve of the consumer market. From an industrial point of view, Neil Burns from Croft Additive Manufacturing is a huge proponent of using AM to develop new products.
Specialising in industrial filtration, AM has allowed Neil and his team to test and develop efficient filtration systems to achieve the best flow rates.
Coming together – a call for collaboration
For the first time ever, the conference brought together researchers and lecturers from more than 10 UK universities to present their AM-related ideas and research results to AM and 3D printing industry businesses to encourage collaboration, development and funding.
Bringing new developments to market is a big step, with UL’s Simin Zhou knowing this better than most. She addressed the fact that the evolution of AM and 3D printing is changing manufacturing from mass production to mass customisation, noting that while it is unrealistic that we will all have printers in our homes, most schools will have them within the next 10 years.
This shift requires a change in the way the industry regulates consumer safety: it will no longer be the reserve of manufacturers to ensure the products they build and create are not hazardous.
Regulators, printer companies and even end users will need to come together to develop best practices or guidelines to help mitigate and communicate the risks associated with consumer printing and the parts or products they produce.
Separately, speaker Tom Craeghs from OBL Paris noted that engineers and doctors need to work together to make surgery safer.
As AM is helping make complex procedures and transplants safer by creating patient-specific implants and surgery guides, but most surgeons aren’t trained in CAD or design so they need to be taught these skills before they can fully embrace all the technology has to offer.
Multi-functional printing is also driving the development of a number of new materials that can be printed all in one go. Kate Black and her team at the University of Liverpool have used chemistry to create conductive inks that can be printed directly to substrates – including plastics – from modified ink jet printers without the need for sintering or post productions. They have already used these Reactive Organo-Metallic (ROM) inks to print sensors and solar cells.
Ricky Wildman from the 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing Laboratory at the University of Nottingham discussed what the lab is doing in relation to multi-functional printing. His work focusses on reactive ink jetting, multifunctional deposition and nanoscale manufacturing, which can be used to couple material control with design capability.
Adam Clare, also from the University of Nottingham expressed his belief that printable inks are the future of AM, but the current challenge for Selected Laser Melting powders is delivering more than one type of powder at once.
His Proteus Powders are designed to overcome the challenges of clogged nozzles associated with blown powder delivery methods and allow the production of flexible ‘feedstock’, created by blending various batches of elements – saving costs, decreasing waste and allowing for the development of a wider variety of materials.
The ultimate alloys
GE Oil & Gas is using AM for gas turbine development and Pieluigi Tozzi presented his findings in regards to the optimisation of the heat treatment with a Ni-based super-alloy with the goal of creating a homogenous material microstructure. Namely, the super-alloy cannot be directly applied to products – it requires treatment to homogenise it first.
Shen Dillon from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign addressed the importance of materials in creating effective micro-batteries. AM helps control geometry, which can maximise capacity in micro-batteries and lithium-based materials delivered through ink jet are the most effective for achieving the high power and rapid charge required.
As the industry continues to develop and champion innovation, next year’s 10th anniversary conference should be a celebration indeed!
This article was provided for DEVELOP3D by Lisa Henshaw