This project aims to determine the extent to which 3D Printing systems enable customers to be actively engaged in the conceptualisation, production and end-of-life disposal of their product.
There is evidence of an increasing demand for customised products, moving away from mass production towards mass customisation. This project will develop future 3D Printing supply chain scenarios with different levels of customer-producer engagement, evaluating whether the scenarios meet economic, environmental and social strategic objectives.
The project will take a systems approach to 3D Printing, considering scenarios for the entire manufacturing process, and leading to the development of sustainable 3D Printing Supply Chains.
What is 3D Printing?
3D Printing, otherwise known as “Additive Manufacturing” or “Direct Digital Manufacturing”, refers to a collection of manufacturing technologies that produce parts in a unique way; unlike many traditional techniques that are either subtractive or formative in nature, 3D Printing produces parts by adding layers to material together.
A wide range of materials are available for 3D Printing, including plastics, metals, ceramics, and composites. Although an established technology for prototype and one-off production, as the machines and materials improve, increasingly 3D Printing is encroaching on conventional technologies in the production of a wide range of complex parts.
Why use 3D Printing?
3D Printing is a digital process which is able to convert designs directly into manufactured products. Unlike traditional methods no specialised tooling is required, and the machines used are capable of producing a wide range of products on a single machine.
Recent advances in production allow multiple materials to be used in a single part. As the process is additive, it is not necessary to consider tool paths and machine restrictions, allowing extremely complex geometries to be produced.
New scenarios for "engagement"
This project uses scenario planning techniques to develop and test future 3D Printing possibilities. Factors such as the distribution of manufacturing facilities, technological requirements, degree of specialism shown by manufacturers, and the level of customer involvement are under investigation.
Social factors, such as the skills required by customers to be able to customise products, and the market for bespoke items, will also be investigated. Building on information gained from a review of current literature, using extensive qualitative research with academia, industry, and the general public, this project will establish and test the state of the art in future expectations. Using this information, realistic opportunities for 3D Printing will be developed, segregating the “possible” from “fantasy”.
The success of this project relies on collaboration with industry, gathering data from companies using, considering, or as yet not involved in 3D Printing. The project aims to deliver realistic results which help shape the future of supply chains and customer engagement across the manufacturing industry. Industrial collaboration is essential for:
- ensuring that our findings are based at the cutting edge of current industrial thinking and practice
- feeding back to our collaborators, allowing our research to have an industrial impact, and to influence government policy
- setting research agendas for the future, ensuring that successive projects remain relevant to industrial needs, and are based around input and feedback from our collaborators.