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UK could lead the world in 3D printing – but only if these issues are overcome

Joseph Flaig

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

The UK could become the world leader in 3D printing – but only if issues with the technology, political assistance, regulations, training and boardroom understanding are overcome.

That was the conclusion of the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group’s meeting with HP and other industry experts yesterday, where attendees pledged to help transform the technology from a tiny fraction of the manufacturing sector to a viable and accessible technique for many more UK-based companies.

Representatives from HP highlighted research showing the UK’s high international standing in additive manufacturing, spurred on by an active research community. According to an HP report, the country is the third fastest adopter of the technology worldwide, and the second in Europe for current readiness to widely adopt the technology for manufacturing.

“The UK… is one of the countries most ready for adoption, so I think it’s in a great place and opportunity,” said Alex Monino, HP vice president for 3D-printing global strategy.

With educational facilities such as the University of Nottingham and the Manufacturing Technologies Centre promoting and developing the technology, the UK has a solid base to build on and reap the potential efficiency, environmental and – eventually – cost benefits of 3D printing.

Roadblocks remain, however. “The opportunity is huge to transform, but there is going to be a chasm – it is the typical technology adoption cycle,” said Monino.

Those present at the meeting in parliament highlighted many of the issues surrounding additive manufacturing – poor understanding of the technique in boardrooms, a lack of materials performance data for safety-critical applications and prohibitive costs all stand in the way. Fundamental issues with the technology, which is not always fully capable of producing parts needed by engineers, also remain. 

To help the UK lead the way forwards, those present called for several solutions including tax breaks, more knowledge transfer from universities to businesses, a unified national campaign, collaboration between companies and greater government support. Labour MP for Huddersfield and meeting chairman Barry Sheerman pledged to take the issue up, promoting a national strategy developed by the UK Additive Manufacturing Steering Group.

More on this story will appear online and in the July/ August issue of PE, available next month.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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