Additive manufacturing: Dream or reality for SMEs?

Additive manufacturing (AM) offers businesses a whole new world of opportunities, but do SMEs see it as an unattainable dream, or can they make it a reality for their businesses? Carl Gregg urges SMEs to believe it can be a reality.

Additive manufacturing offers a whole host of key aspirational deliverables to small businesses.
Additive manufacturing offers a whole host of key aspirational deliverables to small businesses.

 If you ask manufacturing SMEs about Industry 4.0, many will say that while in principle it offers great opportunities, it also requires specialist skills and financial investment that many do not possess.

When it comes to additive manufacturing (AM), there is however a way to surmount these challenges.

AM offers a whole host of key aspirational deliverables to SMEs – mass personalisation, lower development costs, shorter lead times, lower energy consumption during manufacturing and less waste.

All these advantages will be high on the agenda over the coming years as consumers becomes ever more demanding, the sector becomes more competitive and energy costs rise.

Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing

At the University of Sunderland, we are running a three-year project specifically designed to provide fully funded support to manufacturing SMEs within the NELEP (North East Local Enterprise Partnership) region.

The Sustainable Advanced Manufacturing (SAM) Project is a £5.1m project part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the University of Sunderland.

This article first appeared in the May issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here

The project has recruited a team of engineering specialists and researchers that can support eligible SMEs with product or process challenges, including automation and robotics, light weighting, data analytics and big data, VR and AR, and the latest AM technologies, such as material extrusion, resin polymerisation and powder bed fusion.

Our researchers can support longer-term more complex projects using their own expertise and also the University’s wider team of academics. This can cover the development of new products or processes, opening up opportunities in new markets, and improving capacity and capability to give you cutting-edge competitiveness.

The perception of AM in industry is that it is prohibitively expensive. While it is true that high volume industrialisation is a significant investment, at the SAM project we have focused on a range of technologies which start from a low cost-base.

Affordable machines can still have an enormous impact for a business; for example, a European auto manufacturer saved €300,000 over a period of two years by moving production of assembly jigs to in-house AM desktop machines.

Additional Funded Support

SAM Project is based at The Industry Centre in Sunderland, where we have also invested in £1m of capital equipment, giving SMEs access to the latest technology and the ability to develop/improve and refine prototypes or solve problems in their own production process.

To further enable SMEs, we are offering grant-match funding of between £5,000 and £35,000 (subject to eligibility and application criteria).

Registration to the project, eligibility guidance and EOI forms are available to download via our website: www.samprojectuos.co.uk

You can contact us by emailing: sam.project@sunderland.ac.uk