University of Sheffield researchers work with European consortium to advance 3D printing capabilities for industry


• The INTEGRADDE project involves 26 partners from 11 countries with a €17m budget

• Three University of Sheffield engineering departments are involved in the consortium

• Project aims to increase production speed, reliability and quality of additive manufacturing processes, primarily for the aeronautical, mechanical, automotive and civil construction sectors

Researchers at the University of Sheffield are part of a €17m European consortium, developing the next generation of 3D printing technology capabilities to advance the reliability, speed and quality of Additive Manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, processes.

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The ‘Intelligent data-driven pipeline for the manufacturing of certified metal parts through Direct Energy Deposition’ (INTEGRADDE) project is led by AIMEN Centro Tecnológico (Spain), and involves 26 partners from 11 countries. The project aims to deliver a key objective of the European Commission - to advance Industry 4.0 by deploying the technology of additive manufacturing in the European industrial environment under real manufacturing conditions.

Manufacturing costs and the appearance of currently unpredictable defects in metal products and parts produced by additive manufacturing are limiting its widespread adoption and deployment by industry; therefore, the potential of 3D printing in the manufacturing industry has not yet been realised.

To address this, members of the consortium will develop a strategy of continuous and integral optimisation and control of the additive manufacturing processes, from product design to final verification, enabling the implementation of new manufacturing frameworks, faster with zero defects. The project will also look for solutions to optimise current industrial pilot lines and processes using data science and artificial intelligence.

The project team estimate that it will increase the reliability of AM processes by 40%, the production speed by 25% and provide a step-change in improving the quality of parts produced.INTEGRADDE will have significant impact in the aeronautical, mechanical, automotive and civil construction sectors and will involve working closely with end-users such as GKN Aerospace, ArcelorMittal, MX3D, Loiretech and CORDA.

Three engineering departments at the University of Sheffield are an integral part of the project, supporting the consortium with underpinning research in data science, signal processing and artificial intelligence (Automatic Control and Systems Engineering - ACSE), research in structural and topological optimisation (Civil and Structural Engineering) as well as research in metallurgy and advanced material characterisation (Materials Science and Engineering).

ACSE's main scientific input in the project is to create the data-driven computational framework for extracting process-part relationships from the manufacturing pilot lines. The novelty of the research lies in the creation of human-interpretable artificial intelligence models to facilitate human-assisted process optimisation. This will be achieved on the pilot lines relevant to powder-based Laser Metal Deposition (LMD-p), with partners GKN Aerospace, CORDA and AIMEN.

Professor of Computational Intelligence, George Panoutsos, said: "The scope of the work is two-fold; to use raw process data to develop mathematical models of process-part behaviours, and to use such models to further understand and optimise the manufacturing process itself.”

The Department of Civil and Structural Engineering will create novel optimisation tools that can be used to design large metal parts produced by additive manufacturing, tailored for use with Direct Energy Deposition (DED) additive manufacturing processes. They will work with end-user partners such as MX3D, who recently used DED additive manufacturing to build a pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam.

Professor of Civil Engineering, Matthew Gilbert, said: "Conventional manufacturing processes usually impose severe constraints on the geometry of the components that can be produced. Additive manufacturing frees up many of these constraints, potentially allowing the strong and light component forms identified via optimization to be manufactured for the first time. And with DED processes, the scale of components that can be produced via additive manufacturing is significantly increased."

The Department of Materials Science and Engineering will consider the materials requirements for AM processes, and how these can be incorporated into digital platforms. By understanding the characteristics of the materials, experts will recommend which are suitable for AM techniques, backed up with real-time monitoring of performance to verify the output, ultimately leading to right-first-time production.

Professor of Metallurgy, Iain Todd, said: "This project brings the possibility of a digitally enabled manufacturing line a lot closer. The interdisciplinary nature of the work, along with the partnerships established across Europe, mean that the entire AM supply chain is being considered holistically for the first time, and we will see advances happen much more quickly than ever before."

The consortium will also create a network to support companies that are evaluating the possibility of incorporating additive manufacturing technology in their industrial processes.

INTEGRADDE is co-financed by the European Commission, through the H2020 program. The consortium, led by AIMEN, is made up of 26 partners from 11 countries: Germany, France, Slovenia, Spain, Greece, Italy, United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal. In the UK partners include the University of Sheffield, Imperial College London, Brunel University London and LimitState Ltd, a company spun out from the University of Sheffield in 2006.