The UK’s Leading 3D Printing Research Institutions
Research into additive manufacturing and 3D printing technology is currently enjoying something of a golden age in the UK, with a number of leading institutions benefiting directly from Government funding into AM research and the support of institutions like the EPSRC. This encompasses new materials and printing technologies, but also the processes and systems needed to make effective use of these new developments.
This research is helping establish AM in a range of industries around the world, solving the challenges that have previously discouraged manufacturers from exploring 3D printing technology, providing them with both cutting-edge technology and the support needed to successfully implement it. Equally importantly, industry leaders such as Rolls-Royce are active supporters of AM research, helping new developments prove their worth in challenging ‘real world’ scenarios and enhancing the technology’s reputation amongst the general public.
These are the institutions that are currently leading the way in 3D printing research across the country:
The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC)
Since the establishment of its National Centre for Additive Manufacturing, the MTC have conducted intensive research into utilising metal 3D printing as a production technology. This includes improvements in material quality (including the recyclability of leftover powder), post-processing and quality control, and data-flow through supply chains. They have also collaborated with numerous research institutions and industry leaders, providing them with access to their world-class facilities.
The University of Loughborough’s School of Civil and Building Engineering is conducting ongoing research into 3D printing’s potential applications in the world of construction. This includes material research into 3D-printable concrete. The University’s Additive Manufacturing Research Group also boasts state-of-the-art facilities for both printing and scanning 3D models in plastic, metal, and ceramic materials.
The University of Nottingham’s Centre for Additive Manufacturing is leading the way in research into the heuristics of industrial 3D printing, particularly the development of effective algorithms for nesting and volume packing. Their research encompasses material science, as well as the processes and software tools needed by industrial additive manufacturing operations.
The University of Sheffield
The University of Sheffield boasts one of the UK’s most impressive ranges of in-house AM technology, which has been put to full use in its 3D printing research. Its Centre for Additive Manufacturing’s primary focus is on material technology (including polymers, metals and ceramics), and its associated applications. It has also developed a new method of 3D printing, called high speed sintering.
The University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge’s Design for Additive Manufacturing department has benefited from EPSRC funding, and focuses on enhancing the functional qualities of 3D-printed parts. Their research encompasses aspects of design across a range of industries, for industrial, product and engineering design projects.
Imperial College is the rising star of 3D printing research in the UK, having received a significant boost in funding between 2015-16. Their Department of Materials is especially active in AM-focused research, while the Dyson School of Design Engineering’s research into areas such as printing injection moulds promises great things for the industrial sector.
TWI have conducted a range of projects in both material research (particularly for metal printing), and processes and systems for industrial 3D printing. They have also helped to drive the ongoing move towards a formal systems for standardisation and certification in AM.
The Welding Engineering and Laser Processing Centre at Cranfield University are longstanding collaborators for the aerospace sector, with a strong focus on their Wire + Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) technology, which has received funding from the likes of Airbus and BAE.
The University of Birmingham
The AMPLab group at the University of Birmingham, based in its Interdisciplinary Research Centre (IRC) for Materials Processing, is focused exclusively on material behaviour in additive manufacturing, utilising a range of sophisticated technologies to better understand the way materials’ qualities change during the additive manufacturing process. Their research will help develop new materials for AM, and also implement more effective processes for utilising existing ones.
The confidence the UK Government has shown in additive manufacturing research is a testament to the strides the technology has made in recent years. As we see these projects bear fruit, we are sure to see the new materials, technologies and processes applied in innovative new ways. And that, in turn, will lay the foundation for the next stage of innovation in additive manufacturing.