3D printing specialists in Scotland are attracting world-class clients and projects, research by insider.co.uk has found.
The technology is among those underpinning the digital ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and is expected to grow in size from a $12 billion to $20 billion market by 2021. We spoke to five providers of 3D printing services.
CA Models – Stirling
CA Models in Stirling was set up 35 years’ ago by owner and managing director Clark Campbell. He left school at 15 to become a professional footballer, but broke his leg and got an apprenticeship as a model maker instead. His first prototype in 1983 was a hand-made, yellow underwater camera for a reputable product design company. CA Models is now a rapid prototyping specialist working for international clients across industries including aerospace, Formula 1, medical devices and oil and gas.
“Sixty per cent of the stuff we’re doing is Formula 1 parts,” Campbell says. “We’ve got the only large frame machine in the UK of a certain size that’s a gun for hire. In other words, it’s a large frame machine printing in aluminium that’s running 24/7.”
The company makes prototype parts for F1 cars including wings, wing end plates and side pods. Other clients include household appliance specialist Dyson , aerospace company Leonardo and award-winning designer Thomas Heatherwick , whose projects have included Google’s King’s Cross headquarters and the Olympic Velodrome in London.
Campbell’s commissions have also included producing elaborate fashion items for international rock stars and creating models for British bronze sculptor David Goode
“The good thing about 3D printing is that you have complete design freedom,” Clark says.
Angus 3D Solutions – Brechin
Angus 3D Solutions in Brechin is currently working with one of the heart surgeons at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank to manufacture a test rig for training valve replacement using keyhole surgery.
“I’m printing the rig and the artificial heart that goes inside it,” explains founder and managing direct Andy Simpson, who previously ran five traditional manufacturing facilities around the world.
“It’s a nice job because it’s adding value back into the community, it’s not just industry,”
Andy is also designing a controller for the Xbox gaming console for an amputee who lost an arm in a car accident.
Plastiprint 3D – Aberdeenshire
Plastiprint 3D in Mintlaw, Aberdeenshire, was founded in 2014 by Gary Cairns, a mechanical engineering graduate from Strathclyde University , and initially specialised in modelling parts for oil and gas operators.
“In oil and gas, the demand tends to be for scaled replicas of parts,” Cairns explains. “A lot of parts in oil and gas are heavy because they’re typically manufactured from steel. What I’m able to do is 3D print a scaled replica that you can pop in your pocket or have in your briefcase, so you can handle it, rotate it, click it or do whatever it’s meant to do. It’s a very effective marketing and training tool.”
In the last four years, business has increased from one or two orders a month to one enquiry a day, with 75 to 80 per cent converting to orders. Plastiprint’s clients have included a major car manufacturer that needed to print a prototype piece of equipment to children’s TV producers at the BBC who needed parts for robot models.
A groom-to-be also ordered a custom wedding cake topper in the shape of a Transformer TV character.
University of Glasgow – Glasgow
“In the early prototyping stage, 3D printing allows us to optimize designs before mass production,” explains Ravinder Dahiya , Professor of Electronics and Nanoengineering at the university’s School of Engineering.
“With prosthetics, because of physical changes in the body, amputees may experience changes in the physical size of their limbs, making it necessary to develop the socket or whole limb all over again. Commercial artificial limbs are prohibitively expensive, so frequently replacing them, for example in the case of child amputee, can be difficult.
“3D printing is quite handy here, because it’s more affordable and easier to customise. As 3D printers and the associated materials become cheaper, we may see people developing such structures in their homes. From research point of view, 3D printing makes it easier and faster to develop various experimental prototypes and packaging.”
One of the team’s innovations involves creating channels in its 3D printed hands that are then filled with touch or temperature sensitive materials, to help amputees feel a sense of touch. The group is also developing solar-powered ‘synthetic skin’ designed to help return the sense of touch to amputees.
Construction Scotland Innovation Centre – Hamilton
The recently opened £2m Construction Scotland Innovation Centre at Hamilton is designed to help construction businesses innovate, collaborate and grow. It’s ‘Innovation Factory’ offers a raft of high-end equipment including industrial robots, virtual reality and augmented reality technology and a 3D printer.
“The 3D printer at CSIC offers a unique opportunity to print industrial scale structural parts,” explains digital automation and prototyping coordinator Matt Paton. “We’ve had a diverse range of projects and enquiries from all over the construction industry, with a real enthusiasm from clients and partners to push forward innovation in the sector.”
Companies can use CSIC’s service to print complex articulated mechanisms, large scale architectural models, rapid prototyping projects and finished products for end-users in a variety of mediums.
“Visitors to the facility instantly grasp the benefits of 3D printing and regularly throw new ideas forward that have instant potential for innovation in the construction industry,” Paton says. “Developing these ideas is now possible, by using the knowledge base and equipment at the Innovation Factory.”