A consortium of over 30 European companies has received e16m (£11m) of EU funding to break new ground in rapid manufacturing.
While existing attempts at rapid manufacture – such as the US army’s spare parts hospital – use techniques that produce components from one material, the aim of the Custom-Fit project is to develop a machine that can vary the material from metal to plastic within a single component.
The ambitious four-and-a-half year project, led by UK software firm Delcam, is initially targeting the initiative at applications within the prosthetic and medical implant sector, where the ability to produce customised one-off components at relatively low cost is very desirable.
Delcam’s project co-ordinator Chris Lewis-Jones explained that by the end of the project it should be possible to take CAD models of components made up of varying materials and densities and simply print them off.
‘We hope to have a machine which prints off one single component rather than an assembly of components, where you can vary the type and density of material so that it’s flexible at one end and stiff at the other end,’ he said.
But the potential applications don’t stop there – many believe that rapid-manufacturing technology has the potential to completely change the wider world of manufacturing. It offers the possibility of downloading instant data for the production of a wide range of everyday spare parts rather than ordering from a supplier.
Lewis-Jones said that four prototype machines are currently being built and eventually the best ideas will be taken from all four and distilled into a final machine. He was unable to discuss the techniques in detail, but revealed that the four groups involved are Loughborough and De Montfort universities, Sintef in Norway and Dutch firm TNO.