3T Additive Manufacturing – Layer by Layer

We learn about the role additive manufacturing can play in the modern manufacturing sector.

There’s an old story about Michelangelo. Someone saw his David statue, and asked him “How do you carve that out of a block of marble?” Michelangelo replied, “I simply cut away everything that isn’t the statue.”

“It’s an approach that is still a large part of current manufacturing methods. Many metal components are made by cutting from blocks of metal, taking away everything that isn’t the product. The problem is, it’s a wasteful approach. What happens to all those bits that “aren’t the statue”?

This is why additive manufacturing is so useful, as opposed to “subtractive” manufacturing such as Michelangelo’s method.

“Additive manufacturing is building a component layer by layer,” explains Daniel France, the Head of Business Development for 3T Additive Manufacturing. “Instead of it being subtractive and taking the material away to produce what you need, it’s taking a 3D computer model and only building what you require.

Hard-Won Experience

3T are experts, not only in the field of additive manufacturing but in the ways it can work in combination with other manufacturing techniques.

“We’re a production manufacturer of additive components. We provide the full process chain, from the optimisation of design through to complete post-processing,” France explains. “The full process chain is one of our unique selling points. Additive manufacturing is our core business, but our team are specialists and help our customers on the full AM journey. From identifying applications through to build, finishing and quality inspection. Having the facilities to complete the journey under one roof helps the process move faster and more smoothly whilst maintaining the highest quality.” 

The expertise found within 3T Additive Manufacturing is essential, as the field is still a relatively young one, and customer confidence needs to be nurtured.

“The sales team definitely feel that our experience in the industry is a huge strength,” France points out. “It’s still a relatively unknown technology and things don’t always work to plan. It’s good to have the experience among our team of developers in Research and Development to utilise. They are highly specialised and have a huge depth of knowledge in material and process which is particularly appreciated by our bigger customers.”

Of course, that knowledge and experience are hard-won. Or as France puts it, “I always say to customers, in the last 20 years we’ve made lots of mistakes and that’s why we’re one of the best. There are start-ups making mistakes now that we made ten years ago, positioning us as one of the best AM providers in the world.”

Manufacturing Confidence

The continuing challenge is not just building up that knowledge and experience within the company, but to share it with potential customers who may be cautious about new manufacturing technologies.

“Because additive manufacturing is a new technology, customer uptake involves a long education process,” France admits. “We provide training, seminars and open days at 3T or on-site at customers. It’s certainly a process. It’s not just a question of sending us your file we’ll print something. It’s a consultative approach, a journey.”

Of course, 3T’s own accumulated knowledge is useful here, not just in terms of experience, but in terms of the vast database of designs they have manufactured over the years.

“It is also not just about education in the process but instilling the confidence that AM can be equivalent to casting or other subtractive methods. We’ve built a huge inhouse database of mechanical properties in various conditions,” says France. “The amount of mechanical data we have is another advantage for us. We can show that AM is suitable for a huge range of projects.”

Nurturing Skills

Another challenge borne of the newness of AM technology is the difficulty in sourcing new people with the required skills. Like many industries, 3T is finding, the way forward is to nurture those skills themselves.

France tells us, “Recruiting individuals with AM experience has been quite tough because it’s a new industry. We have many nurturing programs including a graduate scheme, a placement scheme (for people during their university course), a year in industry (for students before they enter university), as well as apprenticeships. They mainly come in from a technical standpoint, CAD, engineers, workshop and processing. More often than not they stay on or return after they finish their studies”

Once people are in the company, however, they become part of the family.

“It’s not difficult to keep people because we have a really good culture. It has changed as we have grown but I would still class us as a family who is working towards the same goal. That’s important,” France says, emphasising the importance of enabling people’s careers. “We want to enable people’s careers. We don’t want to give someone a role they stay in for the rest of their lives – we want to move them through an internal development process with lots of external training as well. Including exposure to the wider market, with trips to industry events in the UK and Europe. It’s fantastic exposure.”

3T has the expertise, and it has the technology. However, at the end of the day, there is just one factor that sets 3T apart and allows them to build confidence in this relatively new manufacturing technology.

“Quality is one way we’re trying to move towards being more trusted in certain industries,” France says. “Companies can see it’s safe to explore as they can see our quality standards. This has enabled us to work with large OEMs in the aerospace, automotive, energy, and industrial sectors.”


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