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The world's first 3D printer that reportedly can make parts as cheaply and rapidly as injection molding is being developed at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. The machine will build parts up to three times larger and 100 times faster than current comparable additive manufacturing (AM) machines, making it capable of challenging conventional injection molding for high volume production, according to the university.

Norbert Sparrow

July 23, 2015

2 Min Read
How 3D printing is changing the world in five slides: University of Sheffield

The world's first 3D printer that reportedly can make parts as cheaply and rapidly as injection molding is being developed at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. The machine will build parts up to three times larger and 100 times faster than current comparable additive manufacturing (AM) machines, making it capable of challenging conventional injection molding for high volume production, according to the university. The £1million project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), a UK government agency that is mandated to fund research and training programs in engineering and the physical sciences.

If the technology under development at the university achieves its goals, it will enable the production of volumes over one million, which is currently unattainable using 3D printing. “Additive manufacturing is already being used to make tens of thousands of a product—such as iPhone covers—and 10 years ago that volume was unthinkable," said Professor Neil Hopkinson from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering in a prepared statement. "I believe history will repeat itself and in 10 years’ time, producing volumes over a million using additive manufacturing will be commonplace.”

The 3D printer is based on a technology developed by Hopkinson, who originally filed patents on the process as lead inventor at Loughborough University. The technology for high-speed sintering (HSS) is being licensed to industrial machine manufacturers on a non-exclusive basis, with new machines expected on the market between 2017 and 2018.

HSS selectively fuses polymer powder layer by layer, similar to other AM processes. However, instead of using lasers, HSS prints infra-red-absorbing ink onto a powder bed. Once a layer has been printed, it is exposed to infra-red light, which heats the powder covered by the ink, causing it to fuse, while the rest of the powder remains cool.

The new machine will be able to make parts as large as a washing machine. The speed will depend on the size of the product, but the team estimates that small components will be built at a rate of less than one second per part, allowing AM to compete with injection molding for high-volume manufacturing.

AM has advantages over injection molding, explains Professor Hopkinson. “With additive manufacturing, you can make more complex parts and make each part unique,” he said. “You can also make the parts where they are needed, which reduces transport costs." And you eliminate tooling, he adds, which allows manufacturers to move straight from design to production.

To view the next slide, click on the arrow under the image.

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About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.

www.linkedin.com/in/norbertsparrow

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