Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Launch of PrintCity, MMU

Rachel Burnham writes: I had the opportunity last week to participate in the launch event for PrintCity, which is a part of Manchester Metropolitan University.  PrintCity is a new digital training centre for 3D printing and additive manufacturing, which is based within the university and builds on their previous work in this field. PrintCity can be contacted on Twitter @PrintCityMMU and the team is led by Professor Craig Banks.

3D Printing enables the creation of individual objects from a wide range of differing materials which can be used in prototyping or to create one off pieces such as individualised prosthetics or art-pieces.   It was explained to me, that ‘additive’ manufacturing is so called because it differs from traditional manufacturing processes which have been based on essentially removing materials (the words chipping, grinding and engraving spring to mind), whereas ‘additive’ manufacturing is based on gradually building up materials into the shape required.  There are a number of different ways of doing this.  Additive manufacturing allows for much greater precision allowing finer pieces to be created; makes it possible to produce unique pieces for a smaller initial outlay; and reduces waste.   An example of the latter, is that this process is being used to create the extremely heavy duty connectors required for vehicles in the American military.  These were previously  made from huge blocks of specialised metal, which then had to be whittled down to create the links, involving a massive amount of waste, whereas this way they can be built up from scratch and  then polished off, leading to much less waste.

The event involved a good combination of talks explaining what PrintCity does and setting out the potential for the use of 3D printing, input from Siemans and other partners on how this sort of change is transforming engineering and manufacturing processes, plus opportunity to look around the facilities at PrintCity and see many examples of 3D printing.  These examples included lots of different engineering parts made from various materials, but also fashion items, prosthetics, furniture and sculpture. 

It was great to hear about the many uses of this technology.  It is already being used in fields such as dentistry and medicine to create models to prepare surgeons for surgery, enabling them to ‘see’ in advance and prepare more fully for difficult surgical procedures and also to create individual prosthetics and other items.  We were told how the team at PrintCity were approached by the father of a young girl who was missing part of one of her arms and how a multi-disciplinary team worked together to create a prosthetic just for her, but this learning has then been applied for the benefit of other children.  

This technology can enable businesses to create prototypes of new equipment and products far faster and more cheaply than was previously possible, supporting innovation.   One particular advantage of this is that it makes it possible for smaller companies to engage in R&D and test things out.  One of the other participants in the event told me about how advantageous this is by comparison with the previous situation where a small company might easily spend a substantial sum (£40,000 was the amount mentioned) on the development of a prototype only for it not to work and in his experience this had led to the closure of companies. Whereas using 3D printing you could prototype for much smaller amounts and therefore adjust and try again if the first attempt was unsuccessful.   PrintCity are keen to collaborate with local businesses in this sort of way.

I was fascinated by the very wide range of skills that Alan Norbury of Siemans identified engineers as needing today.  This included use of big data, cyber security, AR and VR, robotics, cloud, gamification, design of apps and many, many others. 

One of the things that most excited me, was hearing about the very wide range of professional disciplines that are making use of this technology at PrintCity and are taking part in their new MSc in Industrial Digitalisation.  As you would expect the engineers are using it, but so are people from medicine, dentistry, fashion, art and so on.   There are a very wide range of applications from these different sources from custom-made buttons, through to lampshades created from sounds!  Apparently the fashion students are particularly good at coming up with new uses.

Some familiar themes to those of us in L&D were mentioned too, but in relation to manufacturing – in particular the use of agile design and manufacturing processes and the increasing importance of personalisation of manufacturing products as a way to add value.   Alan Norbury from Siemans talked about how adding value to products through the increasing customisation of products, coupled with agile manufacturing meant that increased productivity was attainable, without job losses.  

I would love a visit to PrintCity to be included in the fringe activities available around this year’s CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition – I think we in HR and L&D would have much to learn and be inspired by from this kind of collaboration.

Rachel Burnham


Burnham L & D works with individuals and organisations to help them learn and perform more effectively.  As part of this I help L&D professionals to be even more effective through updating their skills and know-how.  I have a particular interest in curation and the use of digital technologies in learning.  I frequently Sketchnote at events and offer workshops in Sketchnoting.  


No comments:

Post a Comment