Interestingly, unlike more traditional forms of manufacturing this technology, 3DP/AM firms are not clustered geographically, the technology being so flexible that it can be done in any location by small teams and individuals without need of supporting infrastructure. That said, there are significant numbers of 3DP/AM companies in areas around universities at the forefront of the development and promotion of the technology.
Key findings from the survey include significant adoption of metal powder as a building material.The early days of commercial adoption was based around resins, plastics and other synthetic polymers, including binders for building sand casting cores. This growth of metal powder manufacture reflects improvements in the processing technology, availability of a wide range of metal alloys and commercial demand.
From the survey findings, over one third of material suppliers to 3DP/AM companies are offering metal powder; and over half the companies responding to us are producing metal components and tooling. There is also indication that other materials including Kevlar and carbon fibre are being adopted.
Alongside the growth in metal 3DP/AM, there is an increased requirement for CNC machining, for finishing and support removal.This brings the two industries closer and delivers maximum value to the end customer.
As the 3DP/AM technology becomes more widely adopted and better integrated with other manufacturing technologies, GTMA believes we will see further growth in metals manufacture and other high strength high value materials.
In general, 3DP/AM printing is playing a key role now in demonstrating its ability to respond to the need for on-demand production and help alleviate supply chain disruption, the organisation adds.
The GTMA also highlights AM’s potential to support both ageing nuclear plants and the new small-scale nuclear reactors, called Small Modular Reactors (SMRs - see picture), the latter allowing reduced construction timelines and making nuclear more affordable to build and operate.
In the former case, AM makes it possible to produce spare parts, using reverse engineering. For SMRs, AM can support a new design approach that could deliver enhanced part performance, more compact size, better heat management and shorter lead times, the GTMA adds.
More genarally, the GTMA is working with the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) and AMRC Fit for Nuclear to identify supply chain opportunities and is setting up a ‘Nuclear Cluster’ of member companies currently that wish to operate in this sector. The central operations at Sellafield are in the process of ramping up works post-lockdown, activities during the recent months these have been scaled down to cover only essential activity.GTMA is in discussion with the senior Sellafield team to ensure we identify any contract opportunities. There is currently a call for the supply of fabricated containers for cooling rods, with the specification available on request to firstname.lastname@example.org