Rolls-Royce, Baker Hughes, and More Team up for £1.1M Large-scale 3D Printing Project

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The UK government, through its public-private innovation fund Innovate UK, has awarded £1.1 million (about $1.4 million) to a venture called the ‘Evo One large format additive manufacturing (LFAM)’ project. Two corporate giants, aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce and oil field services provider Baker Hughes, are participants in the project, which also includes the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) and UK-based AM specialists Evo-3D, software developer Ai Build, and materials supplier Filamentive.

The inspiration for the Evo One LFAM project emerged from a perceived lag in the UK market when it comes to large-scale 3D printing infrastructure. With both public agencies and multinational corporations in the UK gradually ramping up their demand for AM applications that can serve verticals like aerospace and energy, the project is arriving at exactly the right time.

It will benefit from — and should be highly beneficial to — the NMIS’s new Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District Scotland (AMIDS), opened in June on a campus next to Glasgow Airport. AMIDS is headquarters to a newly created NMIS Manufacturing Skills Academy, and among other features, includes a digital factory and a collaboration hub that’s open to the public.

The NMIS’s new AMIDS facility, image courtesy of University of Strathclyde

In a press release about UK Innovate’s awarding of £1.1 million to the Evo One LFAM project, the director of marketing and development of Evo-3D, Jake Hand, said, “The UK is behind other major economies when it comes to LFAM. What we are aiming to do through the development of this system is democratize high-value, environmentally responsible manufacturing in the UK through a system that will bring the latest technology and capabilities to large and small businesses.”

Stephen Fitzpatrick, the NMIS’s digital factory director, said, “We have a huge opportunity in the UK to be a leader in [LFAM]. Putting the right technology in as many manufacturers’ hands as we can is a great base to build on, and having a UK-based OEM is the first step in that direction. With the right tools at our disposal, we can encourage more manufacturers of all sizes to embrace the latest manufacturing techniques and technologies, paving the way for a more sustainable and globally competitive sector.”

The Rapid Fusion Long Arm Pulsar edition, image courtesy of Evo-3D. The machine that’s in-development is likely something along these lines

There are many intriguing angles to this project, from the diverse areas of expertise brought to the table by the participants involved, to the rather immediate leveraging of the brand new NMIS facilities. It is always exciting to have companies like Rolls-Royce and Baker Hughes involved in this sort of initiative, with both giants already heavily involved in 3D printing. In fact, Rolls-Royce is an Ai Build customer. However, I think the most interesting aspect to watch for will be what the NMIS representative quoted above alluded to: the spin-out OEM that Evo-3D plans on launching upon the work’s completion, which will commercialize the resultant AM platform.

Evo-3D announced the plan to spin-out RapidFusion into its own company in June, at TCT 3Sixty 2023 in Birmingham, UK. The company also unveiled an early version of the RapidFusion PE 320 robotic-arm pellet extruder system at the event. Although there aren’t many details yet, it’s possible to get some ideas about what’s in development based on Evo-3D’s existing business activity.  

In April 2022, Evo-3D started offering a variety of robotic-arm pellet extruder printer packages, something the company still does, although the packages on offer seem to be slightly different now. One of the packages the company currently sells is indeed called the ‘Rapid Fusion’ Long Arm Pulsar edition robot package. It includes a KUKA KR 20 R1810 robot arm, which has a payload of 20kg and a reach of almost six feet, and a Pulsar Pellet Extruder by Dyze Design.

Assuming that this is at least the foundation for the system that the Evo One LFAM project will be developing, its versatility should give it the potential to find its way into the areas of the UK manufacturing sector currently most in need of revitalization. This could be even more important in terms of workforce development than it will be in terms of the hardware that ultimately gets produced. Creating manufacturing ecosystems with as much know-how overlap as possible between different verticals is the only way that nations like the UK can stand a chance at keeping pace with all the 21st century’s many burgeoning industrial locales.

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