There’s a meeting place for those working on methods for additive manufacturing design in the UK: the Design for AM Network.
The organization, launched only a few weeks ago, focuses on coordinating the activities of those working on Design for Additive Manufacturing, or “DfAM”. This is a new style of part design that leads to 3D models that are easily 3D printable and indeed leverage the benefits of 3D printers.
Why have such a network at all? The reason is because DfAM doesn’t just happen on its own. In fact, the lack of DfAM as a concept has been constraining the additive manufacturing industry for many years.
In the early days 3D printers were subjected to designs produced using traditional approaches, which evolved in a world of subtractive or casting manufacturing systems. Thus you’d see designs that always included “draft angles” or simple geometries that CNC machines could reach.
While that style of part could easily be 3D printed, it really didn’t leverage the technology. Because 3D printing tends to cost more than traditional approaches, there was really no reason to pursue 3D printing: just make the part cheaply using existing tools.
That equation holds only when it’s the same part.
But what if it was a different part? One that was specifically designed for additive manufacturing? One that could provide additional features and economies over traditionally-made parts?
That’s the goal of DfAM.
Unfortunately, in many regions DfAM research is being done independently, and this could lead to a world where there are many different styles of DfAM. Some may not be aware of specific advantages of other approaches, for example.
That type of problem will be harder to encounter with the UK’s Design for AM Network. It’s a partnership between a number of higher educational institutions and industry to share research and generally coordinate activities. They say:
“The purpose of the EPSRC Design for AM Network is to connect the wider UK Design for AM academic research community alongside those in industry that are experienced practitioners of additive manufacturing technologies, such that we can benefit from sharing knowledge, developing research themes and working collaboratively to ensure that Design for AM is given the best platform possible.
By bringing together the Design for AM community, the network aims to reach out to the widest possible audience that might benefit from Design for AM research; identify future research directions, and facilitate larger and more adventurous research collaborations.”
Specifically, their objectives are:
- To facilitate and promote cooperation, collaboration and coordination between DfAM researchers.
- To initiate and facilitate novel and innovative future research challenges and accelerate impact.
- To facilitate and promote collaboration between DfAM researchers, industry and other academic disciplines.
- To develop a strategic plan to scale up DfAM research in the UK towards critical mass in key areas.
- To provide a forum for the DfAM community to speak collectively to funding bodies and standards agencies.
- To promote the wider importance of DfAM and to raise its profile.
- To deliver a sustainable research Network that will become self-sufficient in the medium to long term.
The list of partners is quite interesting, and represent many organizations that I’ve seen working on 3D printing in the past:
- Loughborough University
- Lancaster University
- Brunel University London
- University of Nottingham
- The University of Sheffield
- University of Leeds
- University of Strathclyde Glasgow
- University of Cambridge
- The University of Manchester
- De Montfort University Leicester
- Manufacturing Technology Centre
- Northumbria University Newcastle
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
The organization hopes to drive themed workshops in DfAM where leading practitioners and researchers can present their work, and thus share this valuable information with all. They have already issued a survey for members, of which there are now about 150, to obtain opinions.
If you’re working in DfAM in the UK, this might be a good organization to join.
However, if you’re not in the UK, I’d start asking why there isn’t a similar organization in your area. If there isn’t, start one!