The Rapid Manufacturing North West (RM NW) Project was an extension to the CAS:CADE Project and in collaboration with an industry partner – Econolyst Ltd – focused on three main areas:
- Supply chain and implementation strategies
- Design scenarios
- Part consolidation, optimisation and waste reduction
RM wa the name given to the production of 'series' or 'end-use' component parts made using Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) processes. ALM processes take Three-Dimensional (3D) computer aided design (CAD) data and directly 'print' or 'grow' parts in a variety of polymeric, metallic, organic and ceramic materials. Historically, ALM processes were used to manufacture prototypes and casting patterns, however, recent advances in ALM technologies and materials now allow the manufacture of parts for a variety of production applications. Examples of RM applications include aerospace and automotive components, packaging, medical implants, hearing aid shells and surgical guides, and consumer products such as light shades, furniture and even football boots.
This project focused on a number of areas in the context of RM, including suitability for implementation in SMEs (particularly in the supply chains of NW industry sectors, such as aerospace, biomedical, nuclear, and energy and environmental technologies), design functionality for bespoke part manufacture, and part consolidation and optimisation in the RM process. Thus, collaboration between LPDU and Econolyst provided a sound platform for RM knowledge transfer, setting strategies for its future implementation on a grander scale in the NW Region. Such opportunities included the establishment of a NW RM-Grid, whereby RM supply and demand is matched electronically over a virtual trading system.
Many business benefits can be attributed to the adoption of RM. These include the reduction or elimination of fixed assets such as mould tooling, jigs and fixtures and cutting tools, resulting in reduced capital investment. RM can reduce or eliminate many stages of the traditional supply chain, which reduces lead times, inventory and supply chain transaction and logistics costs. RM also allows for the manufacture of topologically optimised components, producing parts that are 'manufactured-for-design', as opposed to 'designed-for-manufacture'. Because RM parts are made using ALM technologies, as opposed to subtractive machining or formative moulding processes, little if any waste material is generated. Moreover, ALM allows for almost unlimited geometric complexity, providing new design freedoms and significant parts consolidation. Additive manufacturing processes are lean, yet agile, allowing the manufacture of low volume batches of component parts, with little manual intervention.