The University of Cambridge in conjunction with Loughborough University and EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) have put together a survey for design for 3D printing.
This survey aims to understand what designers know and do when designing end user products or components for series production made in Additive Manufacturing and how they can be supported when they are facing the design of products or components that will be produced in series with additive manufacturing.
Background and key objectives
In the last five years, we have seen Additive Manufacturing (AM) technologies moving from being professional prototyping equipment to becoming almost consumer goods. Despite this remarkable progress and the development of several successful applications in one-off, highly technical or customised products, this technology has not been widely applied in the production of industrial products.
Moreover, the popular claim that everything can be made with AM is misleading. Even if the technology brings several advantages that are not possible with other manufacturing technologies such as producing near-net shapes components at low production volumes, eliminating tooling cost or design change cost, eliminating stock holding or minimum order sizes, reducing assembly effort by component integration, and components with use significantly less material, etc. In reality, those advantages cannot be easily exploited without requiring a set of advanced skills and knowledge in 3D modelling and AM technology.
To address this challenge, we aim to develop a set of design rules to guide process selection and design optimization for cost effective AM. We aim to do this from the perspective of the designer and hope to both challenge the preconceptions that ‘anything can be produced’ using AM, whilst at the same time convincing sceptical designers that AM can be an economically viable manufacturing option when properly selected and applied. Thus, we hope to add AM into the designer’s menu of manufacturing choices and provide sufficient design guidance to enable the appropriate process selection based on functional, technical and economic criteria.
Main activities and key expected outcomes
In order to explore the use of additive manufacturing technologies as mainstream production technologies, we plan to carry out a series of different research activities centred on two main stages. In the first stage, we will seek to collect and review the current knowledge on design for AM by analysing the relevant academic and non-academic published material and the technical capabilities of current AM machines. Then we will investigate design practitioners experience, knowledge and awareness of AM as a production technology. In the second stage, we will then move to develop the design principles. This will be achieved by synthesising the results of the previous stage and testing them in a series of experiments to evaluate their applicability to different processes and machines. Finally, we will also explore approaches to communicate effectively those principles to professional designers and industry.
Advantages of new design knowledge for Additive Manufacturing and main impact on AM activities for research, industry and education
Currently there are many research projects focusing on the technological development of AM (e.g. EPSCR Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing, CDT in Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing, EPSRC Bit-by-Bit project). We hope our project will contribute to this ongoing effort and future developments of AM technology by adding the perspective and the needs of the designers.
Regarding the impact for research, we consider this project as a pilot that will lay down the basis for future investigations. Future studies will extend the outcomes by exploring the latest developments in AM technologies, multiple materials, metals, composites structures and eventually other emerging digital production technologies. The project will inform the ongoing PhD projects at the Design for Digital Fabrication research group at Loughborough University and the Design Management Group at the University of Cambridge.
We expect industrial partners as well as academia to benefit from our research. The design principles will provide a tool for process selection and optimization, which will facilitate the implementation of AM advantages in design and production processes. Presentations at prominent companies and events in the UK and internationally will be an integral part of the project and they will continue well behind the funding period.
Finally, the results of this study will inform the existing taught courses at Loughborough’s Design School and Wolfson School of Mechanical & Manufacturing Engineering as well as the Manufacturing Engineering Tripos at the University of Cambridge. In addition, appropriate teaching resources will be developed and made available to education and industry partners, including online copyright free resources composed of documents, videos and CAD files.
Key challenges currently faced by developers in using AM methods and how to overcome them
Currently there is a lot of excitement surrounding AM and there is little doubt that these new manufacturing technologies provide opportunities to make things that would be impossible with conventional production methods. However even for experienced designers, those opportunities do not always match their experiences. There is a genuine mismatch between what is believed and what is achievable. For designers to take full advantage of AM, they need the ability to discard some hard-learnt design rules and appropriate a new set of rules targeted explicitly towards AM. There has been some work exploring the design implications of AM, although towards AM. There has been some work exploring the design applied to artisan, craft, fashion goods or very low volume production (frequently non-functional home ware such as lampshades). The majority of research is from the perspective of manufacturing technologies in the laboratory. In reality, AM remains critically under-used as a mainstream manufacturing process.
Potential future impact
As part of the research, we are looking at different communication approaches that can be used to effectively convey the design principles to professional designers and design engineers. For instance, the finding of this research could inform the development of new tools and functions in CAD software that can assist with the application of design rules. Regarding markets and applications the project is targeting the wider field of industrial, product and engineering design as applied to complex, multi-component domestic, professional, industrial and scientific products.
To participate in the survey, visit: dfam-survey