Is 3D Printing the Answer to the UK's Manufacturing Challenges?

19th July 2021

The UK finds itself in a curious era for manufacturing, all at once troubled, opportune, and turbulent. British manufacturing production has soared in the early months of 2021. It’s made record growth rates in an economy slowly recovering from pandemic-driven impacts. But it’s still lagging behind, and complex problems abound.

The current logistical and economical implications of Brexit only compound these issues; supply chain disruptions, worker shortages, long shipping delays, and a strong global demand for raw materials are all still pulling UK manufacturing and its suppliers in too many directions.

How can UK manufacturers step up to the plate in times like these? Are they able to look after both themselves and their customers?

Taking Matters into Your Own Hands

Additive manufacturing is affordable, versatile, and has never been more accessible than it is now. The technology as a whole is attached to some enduring misconceptions, which holds a range of industries back from its numerous advantages.

Many would-be adopters are initially put off by ideas of a costly, complex machine that’s more of a hobbyist’s plaything than a real answer to UK manufacturing needs. It couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Take HellermannTyton, for instance, who turned to Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) printing to address their needs with end of arm tooling in their Manchester site. Using Nylon 12 Carbon Fiber materials on a Stratasys Fortus 450mc printer, the company was able to replace metal tooling with a cheaper, lighter alternative created in-house, without sacrificing strength or durability.

How effective was this swap? When they last spoke to SYS Systems, one of their new tools had completed just under 1.4 million cycles on the shop floor. Completely automated and left to just do its job. The thermoplastics available to FDM printers are strong, durable, and industrial-grade. These materials that can stand up to – and in some cases, outperform – their traditional counterparts.

Best of all, this part was printed within a day, required no outsourcing, and will be easy to replace when it eventually wears down. The digital CAD file for its design only needs a bit of hard drive space.

A tool printed in Nylon 12 Carbon Fiber with metal bushings added for strength.

Print Every Step of the Way

Whilst FDM manufacturing creates hard, reliable parts such as casings, moulds, and jigs and fixtures, 3D printing has a lot more to offer. Stratasys’ PolyJet technology is, quite simply, a designer’s dream come true.

PolyJet printing isn’t far removed from an inkjet printer in terms of its method for building up three-dimensional parts. It utilises liquid photopolymers that instantly cure and harden when exposed to UV light. This creates sturdy but flexible parts that can be made in over half a million colours.

Options such as the J35 Pro are so compact that they are quite literally desktop models. A wide range of versatile photopolymers means you can print parts that even simulate textures like wood and fabric. Design your product and have a true-to-life prototype made within the same day.

Creating your own prototypes allows for faster iterations and a shorter time to market for your product. You can also provide a bespoke service, creating on-demand prototypes for customers that just wouldn’t be feasible with outsourced alternatives.

The Modern Solution

3D printers rely on the same CAD models that inform modern design and manufacturing. This opens up a wealth of versatile working options and securities. Stratasys machines work with the support of their proprietary GrabCAD Print software, which, along with a slew of other features, repairs files automatically wherever needed.

Businesses can support their 3D printing efforts in a post-COVID professional landscape by having designers working on a remote and/or freelance basis. Create the CAD files anywhere, then simply send to the office or studio wherein the machine is located. Using GrabCAD, this can even be done if the printer is located in another country. Any errors or faults will be ironed out by the software, simplifying and safeguarding the design process.

Furthermore, protection of intellectual property is much more attainable. Designs stay in-house on digital files that can be held on secure servers. There’s no fear of them leaking as they’re sent back and forth to third parties.

What Does this Mean for UK Manufacturing?

Relying on traditional supply chains is rife with issues and potential setbacks. These are constantly changing and mounting up even now; new border formalities, suppliers unable to work for extended periods of time, and backlogs at ports are forcing many retailers to pay extra to have goods flown in instead.

Right now, it’s hard to distinguish the overwhelming impacts of Brexit from those of the pandemic. But they both spell the same thing: the more links in a chain, the more chances of that chain falling apart.

Bringing in-house additive manufacturing to a business can minimise issues like these, and eliminate certain problems altogether. Why wait on raw materials when you can stock up on material cartridges that only use precisely what’s needed? Who needs to wait for four, six, eight-week turnarounds when you can print a part overnight and put it to use in the morning?

Overcome trade barriers. Reduce cost of materials and storage. Eliminate downtime and create your own tools to enhance and support your production environments. Gain a fast return on investment, and then reap the profits of smarter, more agile manufacturing.

Talk to Stratasys Platinum Partner SYS Systems today for material sample packs, brochures, or for further information on the advantages 3D printing can bring to your business.

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