WIT SEAM’s 3D Metal Printing Activity – An Example of Disruptive Innovation

3D Metal printing (Additive Manufacturing) technology is changing how manufacturing of complex engineering components will be achieved not just in future but for applications today.

3D Metal printing (Additive Manufacturing) technology is changing how manufacturing of complex engineering components will be achieved not just in future but for applications today. Metal 3D printing allows the manufacture of complex shapes directly from CAD design to near-net-shape components. This is a rapidly growing disruptive innovative technology and many novel applications of which are only beginning to be understood. SEAM Technology Gateway Centre based within Waterford Institute of Technology is currently playing a key role in translating the potential of 3D Metal Additive Manufacturing (AM) Technologies to Irish based companies.  SEAM has an excellent track record in the development of novel applications utilising this technology. This ranges from the creation of techniques for the manufacture of thin wall structures for use in biomedical implants to the optimisation of post processing techniques for part finishing and cleaning. Few examples of SEAM’s Key Initiatives in 3D printing are outlined below.

Embedding of Sensors

One specific initiative developed in house at SEAM is the development of sensor encapsulation techniques for the use with metal printing. This allows the inclusion of intelligent sensing devices within metal structures which greatly enhances the functionality of components and can help reduce the mass of high value assemblies such as those used in satellite communication systems. The first such component was the inclusion of the temperature sensor within the body of a metal printed component. SEAM-WIT partners in €22m SFI funded Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (I-Form) whose mission is to shape the future of manufacturing through high impact research into the application of digital technologies to materials processing. Within I-Form, SEAM will be researching further into embedding of various sensors and digitization of additively manufactured parts and hence, integration of these parts into Internet of Things. 

Creating targeted surface structures for BioMedical implants 

The manufacturing process for Biomedical implants requires a degree of surface roughness. Traditionally the finished mold tools require either a coating of small particles to achieve the desired surface finish or a secondary finishing operation to treat the final surface. Though either of these processes produce the desired result, these secondary processes however by their nature introduce a high degree of variance in the final surface and are often difficult to measure or control. 

Additive Manufacturing (AM) allows for a fully user defined texture to be integrated within the surface texture of the Molds.  The surface texture is mathematically defined allowing the user full control of the final result. This also allows for additional Molds to be manufactured at a later date with an identical digital surface texture fingerprint. This is of critical importance where FDA approval is required for the finished product. SEAM is pioneering in this area with a view to provide a guideline for the creation of tooling that can be manufactured to give repeatable values for surface texture/roughness of Biomedical implants. This endeavor of SEAM  has the potential to lead to a revolution in healthcare and improved clinical outcomes for patients. 

ThreeD Training Initiative 

SEAM was instrumental in assisting ThreeD, a Designated Activity Company and a wholly owned subsidiary of WIT, to secure funding under Regional Enterprise Development Fund to create a 3D Manufacturing facility in the southeast that will provide: Advanced Manufacturing (AM) training to industry employees, AM exposure to undergraduate students, develop standards for additive manufacturing, and provide product development support.  ThreeD – a  Design, Develop & Disseminate Centre whose formal launch is expected in February of 2019 is being located adjacent to SEAM which has strong industry linkage in the South East; South West and Mid-West Regions. Utilising this SEAM linkages, ThreeD plans to develop the skills set necessary to maximise the potential of 3D/Additive Manufacturing for the benefits of the manufacturing sector in Ireland.  

About SEAM

An industry focused materials research and development facility and a leading Technology Gateway,  SEAM (South Eastern Applied Materials) Research Centre located at Waterford Institute of Technology, has been a success story in establishing  itself as the first stop for companies seeking assistance on materials related issues that cannot be solved by utilising their on-site resources. It currently assists over 170 industries from wide ranging sectors such as Medical devices, Precision Engineering, Pharma and Energy Sectors in Ireland.