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Finishing the job – solving 3D printing’s biggest problem

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Having come from the aerospace industry I was intrigued to understand why 3D printing was not used more extensively in aerospace. We found out that one of the big challenges facing 3D printing was surface finishing consumer facing parts on the inside of aircraft.

Even high-resolution 3D printed parts, due to the layer by layer nature of the printing process have an inferior surface finish compared to injection moulding or other traditional manufacturing techniques.

We saw this challenge as an opportunity and set us thinking how we could develop a process to surface finish 3D printed parts. Additive Manufacturing Technologies was set up in 2016 in Sheffield to investigate how we could improve the finishing step of 3D printed parts and reduce the ‘fiddling’ you do before and after the process.

3D printing

Finding the solution at University of Sheffield

In one of those strange coincidences, everything came to a head after returning to my old Material Sciences and Engineering Department at the University of Sheffield to discuss some other matters.

During some general discussions, it too emerged that the team at University of Sheffield had developed a lab based technique for smoothing 3D printed parts.

We immediately contacted the University IP team and shortly afterwards exclusively licenced the PUSh® process from the University of Sheffield.

Scaling up the solution to industrial scale

Our next challenge was to transfer the lab based process into a full scale industrial process. This process machine is called PostPro3D®. The first machine incorporated all the elements needed for an industrial application of the surface smoothing process.

Early testing confirmed we had a significant AM process, so we applied for the Innovate UK ‘Connected Digital Additive Manufacturing’ funding call to develop a fully automated version of our PostPro3D machine. Success in achieving an Innovate UK award led to a huge interest from the AM industry.

Funding sped up growth

Just 6 months after completing our first PostPro3D prototype, we are building the next generation of PostPro3D for installation into AM businesses.

We are busy automating the PostPro3D surface finishing processes by using robots. This will reduce any handling of parts output from the customer to a minimum. In June, we started planning to build new machines that will automate other aspects of the 3D printing post processes.

The funding for the PostPro3D machine development through the Innovate UK award has been key to our continued expansion. The award has led to significant industrial and commercial interest from around the world as well as some exciting international partnerships.

Developing skills and creating jobs in Sheffield

AM technologies lab
AM technologies lab

All our work is done in offices and workshops based in Sheffield between the city centre and the Advanced Manufacturing Park. Recently we took on an additional facilities to handle testing and calibration of PostPro3D machines.

Our staff numbers have increased by 4 since the start of the year, with a further 3 engineers and technicians being recruited by 2018. The team has a strong technical, engineering, and chemistry bias and where possible we recruit locally. The most recent recruits include a postgraduate mechanical engineer, with specialism in aerospace and a PhD Engineer with a specialism in thermodynamics.

We actively participate in the local additive manufacturing activities, such as Sheffield Digital, ensuring that additive manufacturing becomes a key industry in South Yorkshire.

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Michael Kenward posted on

    Is metrology a part of the picture?