Nottingham’s Chris Tuck on the industrialisation of additive manufacturing –

Nottingham’s Chris Tuck on the industrialisation of additive manufacturing –

Professor Christopher Tuck works at the Centre for Additive Manufacturing at the University of Nottingham. Unlike many researchers who focus on a single technology or specialise in mechanical engineering, Chris’s research is very diverse. He is interested in enabling additive technologies to flourish and be industrialised. His work covers binder jet materials, inkjet, powder bed fusion (LPBF), polymers, metals, aluminium porosity reduction, mechanical properties of Ti64, inkjet drug manufacturing and printing of conductive components.

Through his work at contract 3D printing research company Added Scientific and PU industrialisation company Reactive Fusion, he also engages in practical manufacturing projects. Active in ASTM F42 and BSI on standards, Chris’s mission is to make 3D printing effective in manufacturing. We interviewed Chris about his mission in Nottingham.

Experiments in material jet simulation.

Our conversation with Chris begins with standards. Chris discusses the importance of defining terminology, details, and additional standards in medicine and aerospace as significant milestones. He points out that the coordination of ASTM and ISO has accelerated this process. However, he acknowledges that the work of standards is never finished, especially in new applications.

We also discussed binder jetting technology. Given the recent hype, is it justified? Chris believes the technology has real scalability and can be cost-effective. He believes more effort is needed to find the right applications and niches to truly displace traditional technologies at large volumes.

LPBF is also increasingly in the spotlight. Chris believes that rather than focusing on adding more lasers, attention should be paid to the technology’s production rate. Weld pool control and cooling are areas where he believes greater attention will lead to more repeatable production. He emphasizes the importance of mapping builds, finding failure modes, and reducing scrap rates. He is encouraged by developments in faster coating as a practical way forward.

Chris has been working a lot on inkjet lately. Could it be a potential source of future AM technologies?

“Inkjet is the answer on several fronts, firstly, accuracy, second only to Vat polymerization, inkjet offers precise droplet placements and small voxel sizes that, if controlled, can produce highly accurate and repeatable parts. Secondly, inkjet technology is inherently scalable in production, more heads equal more material deposition and we see inkjet being used in other industries (ceramic tiles and printed electronics, for example) where this scalability is exploited for mass manufacturing. Finally, materials, anyone who has worked with inkjet will know that the viscosity limitations of inkjet print heads have hampered the performance of materials in these technologies, however, with the advent of new heads, higher viscosity is becoming a real option, and this means that material functionality and overall properties will improve. Given this, the ability to make truly multi-material, multi-functional parts is becoming a reality. What is still needed, however, is a system that people can access, modify, and build upon.”

But inkjet is not a panacea. Chris believes that it is very difficult to develop new inkjet technologies at the moment. True democratization is difficult at the moment because the technologies are not easily accessible. Knowledge and access are limited. Chris is focused on making multi-material parts using inkjet and other technologies. This approach has the potential to create truly revolutionary parts.

A better way to print with inkjet.

What about combinations of different technologies working together? It has been tried before, but interest in these types of combinations seems low.

“I’m not sure to be honest, there’s a lot to be said for combining technologies, for example we recently developed a combined LPBF and inkjet technology to modify the material composition in metallic L-PBF. However, the key is what do the different technologies offer to the final part if combined and how difficult is the combination really? FDM and inkjet, for example, have similar deposition mechanisms, while vat polymerization and FDM may well be possible, but where is the added value? One way to think about it is that almost all the different processes have advantages in material type or scale, and so leveraging those specific elements could be a driver, which will likely be driven by specific product considerations.”

Coloring PBF parts.

That’s a good point. It’s not about the technology or any amazing things we’ve invented. Chris is specifically looking at where these technologies would actually work. Specific product and application thinking will drive new adoptions, not just the inventions we make. This approach is much better than trying to shoehorn businesses and parts into predefined boxes. Specifically improved technologies and industrialized applications are where we can find real value for customers and the world at large.