Scottish SMEs receive £1M support to explore additive manufacturing

05/02/2024
NMIS 3D printing

A £1 MILLION project has encouraged more than 100 small to medium sized enterprises across Scotland’s manufacturing industry to explore the potential of additive manufacturing (AM) techniques – industrial 3D printing – that could add value and open up new commercial opportunities.

The three-year Additive Manufacturing Business and Technology Support (AM-BATS) project has helped small businesses across a range of different sectors to learn more about how to design and adopt new processes, with the end goal of developing more sustainable products and entering new markets.

The programme was delivered by National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) –operated by the University of Strathclyde and part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) – and was funded through the Scottish Government’s Advancing Manufacturing Challenge Fund via the European Regional Development Fund.

From renewable energy and electric vehicles to food and drink, sports, oil and gas, and medicine, 36 projects took place involving different ambitious manufacturing businesses. NMIS assisted companies with a range of activities, such as exploring the initial feasibility of additive manufacturing for a particular scenario, providing knowledge and skills, designing systems, setting up factory equipment, and assessing sustainability benefits. 

Some businesses began from scratch seeking to understand what AM is and what it can offer, while others sought help to accelerate and develop existing processes they already had experience with. Many of the businesses have since created new products or changed existing ones to include 3D printed elements, and several have now adopted AM due to the many benefits offered such as reduced development times, increased sustainability, design optimisation, faster time to market, and ability to utilise digital inventories.

Among them, medical equipment manufacturer, Confidence Plus, received support from the NMIS team to develop a new product designed to support people using ileostomy bags. Using AM, several prototypes were created for the new glider device from recycled materials, and these are now being trialled by ileostomy bag users. 

Anne Inch, founder and managing director at Confidence Plus, said: “Working with NMIS on our medical device will enable us to access new markets and could see the creation of new job opportunities in the healthcare manufacturing industry. The device aims to make a big difference to the lives of users of ileostomy bags and we were grateful for the team’s support in exploring this new innovative technology. We couldn’t be happier with the outcome.”

Another small business to participate in the programme was Scottish eco-fashion brand ROCIO, where the teams worked on a new 3D-printed handbag design that was showcased at Paris Fashion Week. ROCIO’s signature designs are individually sculpted from sustainable wood over a lengthy creative process. The brand was keen to work with NMIS and explore combining technology with art. Using additive manufacturing enabled the business to save time, costs and raw materials in prototyping new designs.

Hamish Menzies, ROCIO creative director, said: “We’re at the heart of sustainable fashion and take pride in each accessory being a uniquely creative masterpiece. For us, exploring the use of a 3D-printed prototype is more cost, time, and material-efficient in the long term.

Through using this technology, we are one step closer to improving our endeavours to be even more sustainable, whilst unlocking and embracing the future capabilities of our industry.”

As a direct result of the support received, another business, FluidMS, a technology company that creates devices for 24/7 health exposure monitoring in manufacturing facilities, saw product assembly times reduced from 60 minutes to 10 minutes per unit. FluisMS has also adopted AM internally and introduced design and manufacturing capabilities for the first time.

Using additive manufacturing, Stonehaven-based Whittaker Engineering also saw lead times shortened from several months to just nine days for its components used in the oil and gas sector. 

Two training courses were developed through the project, offering companies and engineers an introduction to 3D printing via NMIS’s Manufacturing Skills Academy. 

Dickon Walker, Polymer AM theme lead at NMIS, added: “Additive manufacturing has many advantages, from enabling rapid prototyping and reducing lead times to the creation of low-cost bespoke components and a reduction in materials waste. However, for SMEs, in particular, it can be quite a daunting challenge knowing how to get started. This programme aimed to eliminate some of those barriers, reduce the risk and provide the necessary skills and expertise to help companies get to grips with the technology. We’re pleased to see the impact now translating to new product development and the introduction of new production processes, all taking place here in Scotland.”

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