At the University of Sheffield, work with industry partners helps firms of all sizes derive real business value from the very latest advances in additive manufacturing, writes Stephen Birch
From the discovery of new materials to the development of new manufacturing processes, and from new equipment to new software, advances in additive manufacturing (AM) show no signs of slowing down.
The University of Sheffield has invested significantly in AM research and development and continues to do so. Its Department of Materials Science and Engineering is home to much of its AM activity. This, after all, is the physical location where a wide array of equipment resides, as well as a great deal of world-class AM expertise.
In this department, AM research sits alongside studies into materials, including advanced metallurgy, nuclear materials, natural materials, biomaterials and glasses, ceramics and polymers. All this means it’s an ideal environment for the crossfertilisation of ideas.
Advancements in additive
Looking specifically at AM capabilities, we have Royce@Sheffield, a major partner of the Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials and the Institute’s champion for advanced metals processing.
Royce@Sheffield has developed capabilities with the aim of delivering a step change in the discovery and making of new material systems. This will enable concept development from early, fundamental research, right through to translation to industry and, crucially, covering Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 1-6.
In practice, that means that we use a discovery phase to investigate new materials, modelling their performance and properties, to prototype and characterise the materials, develop powder processing and optimisation techniques and trial additive manufacturing processes.
From here, the translational phase looks at application of these materials, techniques and processes to industry, transferring knowledge and skills to small and mediumsized enterprises and to larger companies active in the aerospace, automotive, medical, energy, manufacturing and construction supply chains, as well as providing access to top facilities and state-of-the-art equipment.
Royce@Sheffield facilitates end-to-end research activities that enable businesses to take product and process ideas from initial concept, through development, testing and optimisation to the point where they are ready to be trialled.
“We have invested in state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, and brought in experts from around the world to make sure that we continue to lead the way in AM research,” says Professor Mark Rainforth, Royce@Sheffield director.
“We’re filling a significant gap in materials and process development with our ability to take concepts from inception through to industrial acceptance, all within one facility.”
Mapping the future
Complementary to Royce@Sheffield, we also have MAPP, the £20 million Manufacture using Advanced Powder Processes EPSRC Future Manufacturing Hub.
This is focused on delivering new understanding and impact across a variety of themes within additive manufacturing.
The University of Sheffield’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering is home to much of its additive manufacturing expertise. It’s where a wide array of equipment resides, as well as a great deal of world-class additive manufacturing expertise
With the University of Sheffield leading research teams from the Universities of Leeds, Manchester and Oxford, Imperial College London and University College London, MAPP works with industrial partners to deliver powder-based manufacturing, with a focus on low energy, low cost and low waste in the area of high-value engineering.
This prospect is truly exciting to industry, with the potential to optimise operations so that savings are made across the entire manufacturing process, whether that involves in-process measurement and parameter adjustment; advanced characterisation of materials before, during and after processing; or applying artificial intelligence techniques to real-time and historical data for process monitoring and control.
Through this work, MAPP is addressing the longer term challenges faced by its industry partners, enabling ‘right first time’ manufacturing and fostering the development of new, homegrown manufacturing technologies for industry.
Working collaboratively across our partners’ sites, our researchers are delivering results that span cross-cutting themes relating to powder characterisation and process understanding.
MAPP’s research agenda covers emerging powder-based manufacturing technologies, such as spark plasma sintering (SPS), freeze casting, inkjet printing, layer-by-layer manufacture, hot isostatic pressing (HIP), and laser, electron beam and indirect additive manufacturing.
According to MAPP director Professor Iain Todd, “This is a great time to be active in AM.
We’re in the business of delivering technology that disrupts the status quo, at the same time as making processes more effective.”
Professor Todd continues: “The key message for us is ‘right first time’, as this saves time, effort and money in the long run.
Facilities such as those we have at Sheffield are accessible to industrial partners and are enabling them to push the boundaries of their business further and faster than they’ve been able to do before.”
The AM industry is now a significant part of the global economy, and is changing all the time. While there will always be competition to be first to market, the facilities available at the University of Sheffield are enabling collaboration, accelerating innovation and bringing research closer to industry.
Stephen Birch is marketing and communications officer for the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield. You can learn more about the department’s work at sheffield.ac.uk/materials
Sheffield University helps firms derive real business value from the latest advances in AM