UK government boost to 3D printing a step in the right direction, but could they go further?

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Business Secretary Vince Cable has announced a £14.7 million investment, delivered through the Technology Strategy Board and Research Councils, to develop UK 3D printing projects.

The government funding sees it invest £8.4 million into projects that will leverage an additional £6.3 million from private investment.

The funding will help businesses to develop new manufacturing solutions using 3D printing technology across industries such as healthcare and energy.

Mr Cable added that the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) had £440 million of funding to support new manufacturing techniques.

In this new ‘3D printing’ related investment the it will provide £7.6 million, with additional funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The projects will last between one and three years, undertaking research and development in a variety of technology areas.

For example, a project being led by Renishaw will develop specific facial implants for patients who might have suffered a head trauma.


Another project being led by JRI Orthopaedics will develop customised hip replacement components, and a project led by FDM Digital Solutions will produce customised insoles so that they meet the needs of a patient’s foot.

The TSB provides funding to UK firms for research and development who partner with UK approved Universities to generate new Intellectual Property. This move appears to concentrate on bespoke manufacturing in the medical field, which is indeed a growing area and excellent beneficiary of 3D scanning and printing technology. To date much of this money has gone to very large engineering firms.

DEVELOP3D is hoping that the UK Government will go one step further and look to setup or support local tech shops or hacker-spaces, which would provide access to 3D design and fabrication tools to the general public.

In the USA the TechShop phenomenon has generated workshops where design and manufacturing skills are taught and membership is akin to that of a local gym. According to TechShop CEO, Mark Hatch, each TechShop needs about $5 million in funding and serves thousands of local members, spreading engineering knowledge and enabling new firms to prototype their designs.

An example of just how beneficial this type of facility is to designers was reported in our May cover story on the development of the Boosted Boards electric freeboards. The company, based in San Francisco, actually rented a small room at its local TechShop and took full use of the machines and workshops available.

“At TechShop you don’t only have access to all these machines that you wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise, but it also brings a creative community together. Just seeing other people’s projects and what’s possible inspires your own,” says Boosted Boards co-founder Matt Tran.

A similar TechShop model will surely be just as successful over here bringing vast benefits to many.

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