Swansea University invests in additive manufacturing technology

Swansea, Wales –- Swansea University, one of the UK's top research universities, has purchased an AM250 laser melting machine from Renishaw, the global engineering technologies company. This machine allows the construction of fully dense, highly complex metal parts and structures that would be not have been possible to build using traditional subtractive manufacturing techniques.

The system will be used by a new "Aerospace & Manufacturing" multidisciplinary research team within the University's College of Engineering. Part of the team's focus is the ASTUTE (Advanced Sustainable Manufacturing Technologies) project, a pan-Wales joint initiative part-funded by the EU's Convergence European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government. The aim of the £27 million project, begun in May 2010, is to promote growth within the manufacturing industry in West Wales and the Valleys by adopting more advanced technologies.

"By applying advanced engineering techniques, such as additive manufacturing, to both the design of products and to the production process, the project aims ultimately to create new skilled jobs in the manufacturing sector in Wales," says Johann Sienz, director of ASTUTE and professor of aerospace and manufacturing at Swansea University.

Renishaw's additive manufacturing (AM) technology is a digitally driven process that uses a high-powered fiber laser to fuse fine metallic powders in to 3D objects, direct from 3D CAD data. The metallic powder is distributed evenly across the build plate in layer thicknesses ranging from 20-100 μm forming the 2D cross-section. The layer of powder is then fused using the laser in a tightly controlled atmosphere. The process is repeated, building up parts of complex geometries, layer by layer.

The application for laser melting is vast: from producing quality prototypes, to creating biocompatible orthopedic implants. A key advantage is that component design need no longer be driven by the constraints of traditional machining techniques, giving the opportunity to rethink the concept of "design for manufacture."