Strathclyde University and NMIS to receive share of £15.8m AMCF funding for 3D printing project

Scottish-based Strathclyde University has secured a portion of a £15.8 million challenge fund for a collaborative project with National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS).

Working with NMIS, Strathclyde University will train staff from Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to integrate 3D printing into their businesses. The aim of the project is to de-risk innovation by providing companies with adequate knowledge and resources to help them make correct business, technology, and investment decisions. Stephan Fitzpatrick, NMIS team leader, has developed nine different business and technology support packages that can be sold virtually to companies.  

“We aim to give the owners and directors of small manufacturing businesses in Scotland the confidence to invest in new additive manufacturing processes and technologies that will ultimately improve their business,” said Fitzpatrick. “This could be through improving the quality of output, increasing productivity, opening up new revenue streams, or reducing waste.” 

Stephen Fitzpatrick, a team leader at NMIS, is developing nine support packages for local businesses. Photo buy NMIS
Stephen Fitzpatrick, a team leader at NMIS, is developing nine support packages for local businesses. Photo via NMIS.

NMIS’ joint 3D printing research project                                                                              NMIS is a group of industry-led manufacturing research and development facilities that aims to make Scotland a global leader in advanced manufacturing. The organization is working towards transforming skills, productivity, and innovation in Scotland via a number of projects, including its Manufacturing Skills Academy (MSA).

In practice, NMIS provides an online platform that delivers digital manufacturing and leadership courses for the manufacturing community. Through the MSA, NMIS will provide online workshops and collaborate with companies and their employees to produce bespoke learning action plans for individual businesses. Topics set to be covered include science, visual technologies, cybersecurity, robotics, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.

NMIS has also received a £48 million investment from the Scottish Government which will be managed through the Scottish Enterprise. The creation of the center will widen the scope of manufacturing in Scotland, upskill its workforce and help to provide innovation and expertise on a global platform. The Scottish Government has stated that, following its investment into NMIS, it will double its business expenditure on R&D by 2025. 

“Our ambition, through the online learning project, is to upskill the manufacturing workforce across Scotland by both using and building upon the expertise and skills that currently exist,” said Jose Hernandez the project’s lead. “This will lead to companies being more open to investing in, and consequently benefiting from, digital manufacturing technologies.”

The University of Strathclyde has used an LMD hybrid additive manufacturing system (pictured) for their collaborative project. Photo buy NMIS.
The University of Strathclyde has used an LMD hybrid additive manufacturing system (pictured) for their collaborative project. Photo via NMIS.

NMIS and the University of Strathclyde’s Joint Project                                                        In May 2020, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, announced an initial £15.8 million investment into the Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund (AMCF) to advance 3D printing in Scotland. The AMCF scheme aims to advance the manufacturing capabilities of Scottish SME’s and lead to innovative long-term change.  

The NMIS team will lead two projects at Strathclyde University, focusing on upskilling the workforce of SME manufacturers across the country. Across the additive manufacturing projects, their goal is to de-risk innovation by providing companies with the knowledge required to make the right business technology and investment decisions. 

Stephan Fitzpatrick, a team leader at NMIS, is also developing nine different bespoke business and technology support packages. All but one of the programs can be delivered virtually, which widens their scope and means companies can utilize the resources regardless of their location. 

According to Jamie Hepburn, Scotland’s Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, the program is an essential part of the country’s recovery strategy following the COVID-19 pandemic. “The Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund is a key part of our efforts to create a successful, vibrant and diverse manufacturing sector that can continue to prosper despite the challenges of COVID-19,” said Hepburn. 

“The expertise of the University of Strathclyde and NMIS will be crucial to help ensure the success of these six projects in supporting SMEs to build their capabilities. I look forward to seeing the results of their work,” he added. 

Strathclyde’s four other government-funded programs

Strathclyde University will also support teams at North Lanarkshire Council, New College Lanarkshire, South Ayrshire Council, and Ayrshire College in four other projects. A new manufacturing innovation hub will be created for the Lanarkshire college, while South Ayrshire Council is targeting the high-value aerospace sector with the development of a dedicated digital visualization suite. 

Collaborating with the NMIS, the joint-aerospace supply chain development program aims to break down the barriers to entry for smaller businesses across Scotland. “NMIS is all about working collaboratively with industry, academia and the public sector to develop Scotland’s manufacturing businesses and the sector’s talented workforce,” explained Sarah Jardine, the interim CEO of NMIS. 

“Now more than ever, it is crucial that businesses of all sizes are given the support they need to flourish,” she added. 

The academic innovation behind 3D printing

Universities are a fertile breeding ground for experimentation with 3D printing, and a number of students have made discoveries about the technology in recent years.  

In June 2020 researchers from the Queensland University of Technology challenged the Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D printing process behind anatomical medical reconstructions. The team concluded that their findings could reduce the risk of negative clinical impacts from inaccurate models in surgical applications.

Researchers from the Beijing University of Chemical Technology have developed a starch-infused polycaprolactone (PCL) composite filament for use with low-temperature FDM machines. The plastic was given antibacterial properties through the addition of bioactive ingredients.

Scotland-based Edinburgh University researchers have created cost-effective electrospray and electrospinning devices using FDM 3D printing. The devices were intended for biomedical applications and used analogous technologies for the production of nanostructures.  

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Featured image shows 3D printing nozzle from the LMD hybrid 3D printer from the collaborative project. Photo via NMIS.