How 3D printing and digital manufacturing can help the UK ‘level up’ sustainably

Posted on 9 May 2022 by The Manufacturer

At the beginning of February this year, the Government released a new whitepaper detailing its ‘Levelling Up’ plan - a moral, social and economic programme that aims to spread opportunity more equally across the UK.

The goals are to boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards – especially in those places where they are lagging, and restore a sense of community, local pride and belonging – especially in places where they have been lost, while empowering local agency, leaders, and communities.

Manufacturing must be at the heart of this strategy.

As Chi Onwurah MP commented, it is an industry that’s integral to the UK, as part of its national identity and economy. Manufacturing is also immensely valuable as it’s a source of good, well paid, and high productivity jobs that people can feel proud of. Plus, as Verity Davidge, Director of Policy at Make UK noted – the sector is responsible for 65% of private investment into Research and Development (R&D), and half of all the UK’s exports.

There’s also a natural fit between the goals of ‘Levelling Up’ – which seeks to deliver different benefits to different regions based on local needs, with the power and flexibility of digital 3D and additive technologies for democratising manufacturing. No matter who you are, or where you are, you can now start to engage with markets and investors based on the strength of your ideas, and the attractiveness of your product – rather than economies of scale and the size of your company.

As we learned during the pandemic and are seeing again due to the conflict in Ukraine, we must keep working to strengthen and shorten supply chains and become less reliant on imports – which is as important for sustainability as it is security. Investing in manufacturing and 3D Printing can make us more independent – regionally, and nationally.

Transforming manufacturing by driving local growth and global sustainability  

Fortunately, this investment is happening. Independent research commissioned by HP found that 50% of British industrial parts manufacturers intend to spend more than €1m on digitalisation and additive manufacturing technology over the next five years. The data also revealed medium term confidence in the sector is high, with 100% of respondents expecting extreme growth.

It’s worth noting the tectonic shift which is driving this growth – James Hawkins, Managing Director of UK service bureau, Printing Portal, explained how just five years ago, about 70% of his company’s output was 3D printing prototypes, yet today, it is around 80% production parts. This step change is backed up by HP’s Additive Manufacturing Trends in EMEA Report, which found 83% of respondents are using additive manufacturing to produce components and tools for make commercial products, and 52% of respondents are already using additive manufacturing to make complete, finished products. Given 3D printed parts are increasingly being adopted in high-specification industries as diverse as aerospace, rail and marine, there are emerging opportunities to service these sectors, no matter where in the UK a business may be.

James Hawkins also noted that sustainability is another major driver, with 3D printing driving down greenhouse gas emissions and waste throughout the product life cycle, compared to legacy manufacturing. For example, James has seen multiple local customers start new businesses because of the additive manufacturing supply chain – because they were able to rapidly iterate and create multiple parts and products at a nearby location with a small budget. Then take them to market to gain exposure and win new customers and contracts, rather than having to travel to manufacturers on the other side of the world, then have parts made and shipped back en masse to the UK.

As well as reducing the need for transportation, the on-demand nature of 3D Printing matches production and demand much more closely, which reduces the space and energy used for both manufacturing and storage, as less inventory is needed, with less reliance on international warehousing.

For example, in many cases, when you buy a book online – the book does not even exist yet, it’s printed on demand by a digital press, that’s closest to your location.  for you – closer to your location where you are in a digital press. This is already happening, today – and there’s no reason why this model cannot eventually be scaled to deliver plastic parts, components, or even 3D Printed metals faster and more sustainably, wherever in the UK they are needed.

Maintaining momentum to keep Levelling Up

With the additive manufacturing industry currently growing around 22% annually, there’s demand for talent and skills across the country, and the good news is that traditional manufacturing expertise and experience remains highly relevant and complementary. While many skills, such as mould making, will carry over, it’s also clear that ongoing digital skills and education investment is essential, to help people retrain and to enable new generations to come through and thrive.

This requires a level of digital literacy where people can use technology to design and create, rather than simply consuming technology as a product. Stronger links between schools, education and industry can help forge this deeper, more output focused understanding.

Verity Davidge also mentioned the compelling idea of treating digital literacy as seriously a functional skill as numeracy and literacy, with people being provided with an online lifelong digital skills account they can tap into throughout their academic and professional career, to keep learning.

In keeping with the Levelling Up approach, local authorities and organisations must be empowered to use skills funding and investment in whatever way will address the unique challenges different regions across the UK have. Top down doesn’t work because local problems need local knowledge.

Plus, more work must be done to raise awareness around the country about the funding, apprenticeship, and training opportunities available for people and small businesses. Such as HP’s Design for Additive Manufacturing training programme – which is available for free online – and was created to help engineers and designers learn more about additive manufacturing and HP Multi Jet Fusion technology.

With urgent, committed action, and smart, long-term investment by both the private and public sector, the immediate and potential opportunities digital manufacturing and 3D Printing provide can be made available to all.

If there is any way at all, that HP might be able to help with getting your students, employees, or local community on board with this exciting, transformative technology, please do get in touch – because we are ready to help.

HP recently held a virtual roundtable to discuss digital manufacturing’s current and potential contribution to the UK’s ‘Levelling Up’ agenda. This opinion piece represents a combination of the views expressed. You can watch the event for yourself, here. 

Thank you to all our speakers:

Chi Onwurah MP, Labour member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central & Shadow Minister for science, research, and innovation

Verity Davidge, Director of Policy at Make UK, which represent around 20,000 manufacturing and engineering companies across England and Wales

James Hawkins, Managing Director of Printing Portal, a 3D printing and 3D scanning service provider based in Kent, and the UK’s largest Multi Jet Fusion service provider

About the author

EmilioEmilio Juarez is the Vice President, EMEA, 3D Printing HP Inc.

Emilio has vast experience in sales and marketing roles, across B2C and B2B. This experience has provided Emilio with significant insight on customer behaviour along the adoption curve for the 3D printing market.

Prior to this role, Emilio spent more than 20 years at HP in a variety of leadership roles for 3D Printing, Large Format Printing, Inkjet and Laser Printer businesses.

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The Manufacturer also organises Digital Manufacturing Week, where a series of events takes place, providing industry leaders with everything they need to drive their business forward in the digital era, and showcase the very best of industry on a public stage. This year’s event will be held on the 14-18th November 2022 in Liverpool, to find out more, click here.