Additive manufacturing to replace injection moulding?

The University of Sheffield claims it will build the world's first additive manufacturing machine that can make plastic parts up to three times larger and 100 times faster than current comparable additive manufacturing (AM) machines. Meaning it could be capable of challenging conventional injection moulding for high volume production.

The £1million project, funded by the EPSRC, has the potential to transform both manufacture and distribution.

Professor Neil Hopkinson from the University of Sheffield's Faculty of Engineering says "Additive manufacturing is already being used to make tens of thousands of a product, such as iPhone covers; ten years ago that volume was unthinkable. This machine will enable serious production of volumes over one million, which is currently inconceivable. I believe history will repeat itself and in ten years' time, producing volumes over a million using additive manufacturing will be commonplace."

The new machine will be able to make parts up to 1m3; the speed will depend on the size of the product, but the team estimate that small components will be built at a rate of less than one second per part, allowing AM to compete with injection moulding for high volume manufacturing.

AM has advantages over injection moulding which makes the process more attractive. "With additive manufacturing you can make more complex parts and make each part unique," Prof Hopkinson explained. "You can also make the parts where they are needed, which reduces transport costs. With injection moulding you have to make a tool, which is expensive and has to be done in advance. With AM, you miss out that stage, moving straight from design to manufacture."