UK Government Agencies Reveal Details of £7million 3D Printing Competition

Following the original announcement of up to £7million worth of funding into 3D printing, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB), in conjunction with the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has announced further details about the new initiative — to start in December. The initiative is presented as a competition for collaborative R&D funding with the specific purpose of inspiring new design freedoms in additive manufacturing / 3D printing.

Reacting to information supplied to by various sources during an 18-month + consultation period, the competition aims to overcome some of the barriers to faster adoption and innovation across the UK, including “the so-called ‘dirty secrets’ of additive manufacturing.” This is referring to high costs (capital and running), inconsistent material properties, lack of applicable industry standards, unexpected pre-and post-processing requirements and the failure to exploit the new design freedoms offered.

The ultimate aim of the competition however, is to “accelerate the creation of exciting new design, production and supply chain competences for UK businesses.” Essentially adding value to ‘brand UK’ with 3D printing.

In terms of the competition itself, all proposals have to be collaborative and business-led, involving at least one other non-academic partner, but can come from small, medium or large organisation. Winning proposals can expect investment of between £50k and £750k – although projects outside of this range will be considered, up to £1.5 million. The competition’s primary goal is to identify innovation projects in the category of industrial research. Moreover, up to £500k has been specifically allocated for industrial research projects focused on applications in space.

The initiative is a two-stage competition opening on 3 December 2012 and the deadline for applicants to register is noon on 23 January 2013. A briefing and consortium building event will be held in London on 11 December 2012. With Expressions of Interest (EOI) to be placed by the end of January, which will be duly considered and the winning projects invited to submit a full application.

According to the scope of the competition — all projects must be focused on a significant innovative step in at least one of the following six topic areas: 

Design freedoms

Additive manufacturing releases designers from many of the traditional manufacturing constraints; we want to see bold innovation projects exploring and implementing these new freedoms. We are also looking to inspire new ways to capture design in order to drive additive manufacturing processes – or the reverse – where the process capability drives design.

Application development and demonstrators

Whatever the application – from aerospace to jewellery – we are seeking to help companies make the step from today’s ‘prototyping’ mindset to a ‘series production’ capability. We are particularly keen to support one or two large innovation projects involving several sectors and expert groups pooling resources to develop shared capability demonstrators to help this emerging industry analyse and benchmark what current machines and materials can actually deliver as a robust manufacturing proposition. We will also support the development of standards as part of the innovation activity where a strong case is made that UK companies can influence and benefit from the standards.

Pre- and post-processing

We are looking for innovative approaches to overcome, automate or minimise impact of additive manufacturing’s so-called ‘dirty secrets’ – all the high nuisance, low-value activities required to make the promised ‘print from CAD’ concept work efficiently. These include data generation, build preparation, finishing, heat treatment, inspection and validation.

End-to-end system integration

We want to see radical innovation proposals to replace today’s piecemeal, bottom-up simulation and processing techniques with complete, top-down, customer oriented business cycle rehearsals and order fulfilment capability. Conducting a complete virtual manufacturing cycle triggered by the customer’s online enquiry should now be a realistic business objective, executed in real-time to enable a binding, online delivery quotation within one minute of receiving the customer’s 3D design.

Supply & distribution chains

The fragmented and incomplete UK supply chain represents a structural weakness in the UK’s ability to bring this technology into mainstream use. We are looking for partners in new and existing supply chain elements to explore and test new technologies, logistics and value chain configurations, enabling faster, better and more profitable adoption of additive manufacturing.

Business model development and demonstration

Innovation frequently disrupts existing value chains and drives the requirement for a new business model. We are keen to encourage consortia to explore and try out new business models, in conjunction with innovation in one or more of the other topics in this scope.

Source and full details: innovateuk