October 26, 2022
In this month’s member spotlight, we journey across the pond to meet one of our early participating members, Stephen Fitzpatrick from the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), a group of industry-led manufacturing research and development facilities brought together to boost the manufacturing community.
As Team Lead for Additive Manufacturing, Machining and ReMake, Stephen’s expertise span 24 years, having worked in additive manufacturing processes such as laser metal deposition, wire arc, metallic powder bed fusion, and novel machining processes such as parallel kinematics.
NMIS was an early Participating Member of AMGTA to identify and promote the environmental benefits of additive manufacturing. How has your involvement in AMGTA benefited NMIS and how has the collective AMGTA movement benefited the broader AM industry in pursuing more sustainable practices?
- Sustainability in innovation has always been at the front of our minds here at NMIS. Having adopted AM processes into our research around 10 years ago through the use of Direct Energy Deposition (DED) technologies for remanufacturing, it was clear that we wanted to lead the way in that movement.
The AMGTA was the first organization I was aware of globally that stood in front of the sustainability challenge and opportunities in AM. By joining, it has allowed us to learn and develop. Not only that, but we have become part of a global network, working with like-minded organizations, fostering collaborations and sharing a common goal.
Most importantly, it allows us to help the companies we work with, to understand the environmental benefits (and sometimes challenges) associated with additive manufacturing.
NMIS works with a broad range of companies exploring the potential best-uses and benefits of AM. Rather than offering a specific product, you assist companies with exploring the wide range of AM (and non-AM) manufacturing options to address their business needs. What trend lines, if any, do you see across your membership as it relates to AM? What are the most common challenges they are trying to solve?
At NMIS, we work across a range of metallic and polymer AM processes, including DED-Arc, DED-LB, PBF, Material Extrusion and VAT Polymerisation. However, trends and challenges differ depending on technology, sector and application – so it’s difficult to pin this down to a specific challenge. We have companies approach us from a broad spectrum of industries with a solid business case looking to take advantage of AM.
Businesses are now rethinking how they manufacture their products following the past few years due to the pandemic, and global energy and material supply shortages.
Companies are looking for greater control when it comes to their supply chains—seeking out options to manufacture closer to site and controlling lead times. More often than not, this will have a significant positive impact from a CO2 perspective, which we are seeing in the high integrity metallics sectors, particularly around DED technologies. Even when companies are not taking advantage of the full design opportunity, there is still a significant cost and CO2 advantage, if they control their lead time, procurement, and logistics.
That said, we are also working closely with companies to realize the full potential of AM through the design opportunities it brings.
We are seeing more companies approach us about using AM as a remanufacturing enabler for metallic parts. As many companies have net-zero strategies, they are exploring their life extension opportunities and realizing that AM processes can support this transition. On the Polymer side there is a growing opportunity around recycled polymers for new filaments – in both thermoplastics and thermoset.
What is most pleasing for me, is that we have engaged with over 100 SME companies in Scotland looking to adopt AM. We have also run over 20 projects in the past 18 months with SMEs in Scotland across a wide a varied range of sectors and applications – this broad applicability is demonstrating to me that we are starting to drive wider adoption.
Finally, we have spoken about standards for several years and having the confidence in sectors to adopt AM. I would say that a lot of progress has been made here across sectors. People and companies are becoming more knowledgeable, gaining confidence, and looking for ways to make the AM processes fit their requirements. Perhaps, in years gone by, the mind-set was to instantly compare to forging specs. Now companies have the appetite to look at how AM fits their requirements – but, we still have work to do. Using digital technologies and putting more effort into adopting processes monitoring and control will be critical in this area as we move forward.
What do you see as the role of private-public partnerships in driving innovation and sustainability?
The role of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland is to support the wider adoption of additive manufacturing. We are a mid-TRL Research and Technology organization, and our job is to help companies through that development pathway, and AM is one of the processes where we do that.
Part funded by Scottish Government, our ultimate goal is to create a sustainable manufacturing future for Scotland and the rest of the UK. This will be measured by economic growth, and the sustainability and social KPIs.
It is also our role to tell companies when using AM isn’t the best solution. In many circumstances, it’s important to remember that conventional manufacturing processes are still the best approach.
And we aren’t doing this alone. NMIS is also part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC), making up seven centres across the UK, supporting the growth of manufacturing.
In your experience with your members and other partners, do you see companies exploring AM for strategic reasons and then discovering the potential environmental gains or are they searching for sustainability and discover AM as a potential avenue for those environmental benefits?
Until very recently, it was purely economic drivers. Economic drivers are still paramount, but sustainability discussions are now going hand in hand as many companies are more knowledgeable about the business case.
In the past, direct manufacturing costs would be the main comparison with conventional manufacturing, and in a lot of cases, AM won’t win that race. However, lead time, procurement, logistics, and design performance all translate into cost. With the current global situation, these secondary drivers are being assessed, and AM is becoming a more widely developed technology.
Of course, this knowledge and understanding will vary from company to company and sector to sector. That’s why NMIS is here. We support and guide them through that adoption process and provide them with carbon emissions studies vs conventional manufacturing to allow them to make the best decisions for their business.
NMIS provides research services to your members and other companies. What topics in the AM/sustainability area interest these companies most? What issues within AM do you believe need further investigation to create a clearer picture of the environmental impacts?
When companies are looking to adopt an AM process, they will most often ask us to do a carbon emission study because this is usually a significant change to how they manufacture. Our experience means that we tend to approach this differently depending on the customer requirements and the information available to us.
As an industry we need to get better at standardizing our approach to carbon emissions and LCA analysis. We should also be working with standards bodies on the different processes along the AM value chain/supply chains, and promoting transparency. I think it’s also fair to say that all manufacturing processes are grappling with the same problem – this isn’t unique to AM.
Do you see sustainability “quick wins” for your members in the AM ecosystem?
Across most sectors, 60-80% of the total embodied emissions are located at the material extraction and primary processing stages, so keeping parts in circulation for longer is the best way to minimize carbon emissions in manufacturing.
Clearly, a great way to do this is through remanufacturing, where we are using AM to reinstate the component back into service. However, by using AM to increase functionality and performance, we can also extend the life of our components in service.
I have mentioned some of the AM drivers that we are seeing, and when businesses are taking full advantage of the AM process, the likelihood is that they will see sustainability benefits as well.
Anything else you would like to share with the other AMGTA members?
The National Manufacturing Institute Scotland exists to support organizations and conduct R&D to help them on their AM adoption journey. And as part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, we can support most AM processes across all of the technology families and material systems through our network.
I’d encourage anyone looking to discuss a particular AM opportunity to reach out to us and find out how we can support – www.nmis.scot.