UK pledges GBP 7M to additive manufacturing

Swindon, UK - The UK government is committing £7 million to support innovation in additive manufacturing technologies, from overcoming technical barriers and accelerating commercialization to exploring new business models.

The "Inspiring New Design Freedoms in Additive Manufacturing" competition, officially opening on Dec. 3, aims to help businesses bring components and consumer items made by additive manufacturing more quickly to market. It will also help spur domestic firms' efforts to accelerate adoption of additive manufacturing technologies and overcome remaining technical barriers and explore new business models.

Grants for collaborative R&D projects will be awarded through an open competition managed by the Technology Strategy Board, the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The groups promise more information on the competition will be released in the next couple of weeks.

“We believe this new investment will help UK companies make the step change necessary to reach new markets and gain competitive advantage," stated Universities and Science Minister David Willetts. "Building on £20 million of previous Technology Strategy Board support for additive manufacturing innovation, it will help secure more of this game-changing high-value activity for the UK, driving economic growth and enhancing quality of life.”

Iain Gray, chief executive of the Technology Strategy Board, emphasized that the initiative is supported by three research councils. "By working together to stimulate innovation in this exciting and challenging area, we aim to accelerate the transition from fundamental research to the creation of new design, production, and supply chain competences, capitalizing on work we have previously funded," he said. " We want to make the UK a world leader in 3D printing. We are setting our sights high.”

The Technology Strategy Board has identified additive manufacturing as one of 22 priority technologies which should be developed as a UK national competency in "high-value manufacturing," and has set up a special interest group on additive manufacturing to develop technology and innovation needs assessment analyses. It pegs the sector as a $1.9B market (machine tool, materials, services) in 2011, but with sustained double-digit growth forecast to exceed $7.5B by 2020 -- or possibly as high as $100B by 2020 if technology and commercialization hurdles can be overcome.