Scottish companies advance sustainable manufacturing with £1 million 3D printing funding

A £1 million support project from the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) has enabled over 100 small and medium scottish manufacturing firms to leverage industrial additive manufacturing. 

The three-year Additive Manufacturing Business and Technology Support (AM-BATS) project has supported businesses from a range of industry verticals to explore how best to integrate industrial 3D printing into their workflow. 

Ultimately, NMIS hopes that this support program will open up new commercial opportunities in Scotland, with the end goal of developing more sustainable manufacturing processes in new markets.    

Throughout this initiative, NMIS assisted companies with exploring the feasibility of additive manufacturing for specific applications, provided knowledge and skills, designed systems, set up factory equipment, and assessed sustainability benefits. Two training courses were also delivered through the support project, introducing companies and engineers to 3D printing through NMIS’s Manufacturing Skills Academy.        

“Additive manufacturing has many advantages, from enabling rapid prototyping and reducing lead times to the creation of low-cost bespoke components and a reduction in materials waste. However, for SMEs, in particular, it can be quite a daunting challenge knowing how to get started,” commented Dickon Walker, Polymer AM theme lead at NMIS. 

“This program aimed to eliminate some of those barriers, reduce the risk and provide the necessary skills and expertise to help companies get to grips with the technology. We’re pleased to see the impact now translating to new product development and the introduction of new production processes, all taking place here in Scotland.”

A student using a 3D printer at the University of Strathclyde. Photo via NMIS.
A student using a 3D printer at the University of Strathclyde. Photo via NMIS.

NMIS program expands AM in Scotland 

NMIS is operated by the University of Strathclyde, and is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. The £1 million funding was provided by the Scottish Government’s Advancing Manufacturing Challenges Fund via the European Regional Development Fund

The AM-BATS initiative has ultimately supported 36 unique ventures involving over 100 manufacturing SMEs. These projects span a range of applications and industries, including electric vehicles, food and drink, sports, oil and gas, and medicine.  

For some of the businesses, this was the first time they had ever leveraged additive manufacturing technologies, with a view to understanding what 3D printing can offer for their manufacturing workflow. Other companies sought help from NMIS to accelerate and develop their existing additive manufacturing processes.   

Following the delivery of the AM-BATS initiative, the Scottish firms have now created new products or layered existing offerings to incorporate 3D printed elements. 

Several of the SMEs have adopted additive manufacturing for the first time due to its reduced development times, sustainability benefits, design optimization, faster time to market, and compatibility with digital inventories. 

One such company is medical equipment manufacturer Confidence Plus, which received support from NMIS to develop a new product for people using ileostomy bags. The firm leveraged additive manufacturing to produce prototypes for a new glider device from recycled materials. These products are now being trialed by ileostomy bag users. 

“Working with NMIS on our medical device will enable us to access new markets and could see the creation of new job opportunities in the healthcare manufacturing industry,” commented Confidence Plus Founder and Managing Director Anne Inch. “The device aims to make a big difference to the lives of users of ileostomy bags and we were grateful for the team’s support in exploring this new innovative technology.”

Similarly, Scottish eco-fashion brand ROCIO worked with NMIS to produce a new 3D printed handbag design that was showcased at Paris Fashion Week. The company’s designs are sculpted from sustainable wood, a lengthy production process. By leveraging additive manufacturing, ROCIO has reportedly realized time, cost and material savings when prototyping its eco-friendly designs.  

According to ROCIO creative director Hamish Menzies, “exploring the use of a 3D-printed prototype is more cost, time, and material-efficient in the long term.”  

Menzies added that 3D printing technology has put the company “one step closer to improving our endeavors to be even more sustainable, whilst unlocking and embracing the future capabilities of our industry.”

FluidMS has also incorporated additive manufacturing. The technology company, which creates devices for 24/7 health exposure monitoring in manufacturing facilities, reportedly saw product assembly items reduced from 60 minutes to 10 minutes per unit. The Glasgow-based firm has also adopted 3D printing internally, and introduced design and manufacturing capabilities for the first time.

Another company to achieve time savings with additive manufacturing is Whittaker Engineering, which saw lead times shorten from several months to just nine days for its oil and gas components. 

Iterations of the 3D printing design process at NMIS. Photo via NMIS.
Iterations of ROCIO’s 3D printing design process at NMIS. Photo via NMIS.

Funding bolsters sustainable manufacturing   

3D printing industry recently surveyed 3D printing experts who outlined the key 3D printing trends and their insight on the future of 3D printing. A key theme that permeated the responses of both surveys was the sustainability benefits offered by additive manufacturing. 

NMIS is not the only organization to deliver funding to increase the sustainability of manufacturing with industrial 3D printing. Earlier this year, America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, awarded $1.2 million to the winners of the Environmental Additive Research for Tomorrow’s Habitat (EARTH) project.   

Delivered in collaboration with the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), the EARTH project promotes sustainable additive manufacturing, including the recycling and reutilization of 3D printing materials. Both winning projects hope to further this goal. The winning teams will now use the funding to identify and validate additive manufacturing designs and materials that meet sustainability-related qualifications.   

Elsewhere, UK-based biomaterials start-up Modern Synthesis raised $4.1 million to develop a microbial textile platform. The company claims that its microbial weaving process, similar to 3D bioprinting, could help the fashion sector to lower its carbon footprint and reduce waste. The company’s process can create customizable biomaterial that grows to form objects of a desired shape.

Modern Synthesis’ goal is to ultimately replace animal and petrochemical baked materials used in the fashion sector with its biodegradable alternative. The $4.1 million seed funding helped the company to build on its microbial textile platform and build its pilot facility.        

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Featured image shows a student using a 3D printer at the University of Strathclyde. Photo via NMIS.