Wednesday, July 30, 2014

News: AMRC invest in grinding as it gears up for 3D print revolution

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Using the very latest, biggest and best machines to research manufacturing techniques in sectors such as aerospace and nuclear has worked well for the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Centre (AMRC) with Boeing, and now the Rotherham-based centre is replicating the approach in the medical sector.

Part of the University of Sheffield AMRC, the Medical AMRC combines cutting-edge manufacturing technologies with world-class research and development and access to clinical expertise. Engineers, software specialists, product designers and material scientists based at facilities on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) work closely with manufacturers to push the limits of current technologies and create new possibilities.

The AMRC has recently installed a new, PROFIMAT MC607, 5-axis CNC grinding machine, made by German company Blohm Jung, at the AMRC Design Prototyping and Testing Centre. It is one of the most flexible machines of its type and will enable researchers to increase understanding of how materials behave during grinding. It is a world away from the traditional machines used by the thousands of grinders during Sheffield's cutlery heyday.

Future plans include using the grinder to create a high quality finish on artificial knee joints, made from cobalt-chrome powder, using 3D printing technology.

At present, patients needing replacement knees have to make do with the best possible match from a range of standard sizes. In future, the joint being replaced could be scanned so that a 3D replica can be made that would be a perfect match.

Dr Andy Bell, project manager at the AMRC Design & Prototyping Group, said: "The big advantage is the joint is bespoke, so you are replacing like for like and 3D printing saves on material, so there is the potential to reduce weight.

"However, the surface isn't of a high enough quality for components used in a replacement joint, so it has to be very, very highly finished, which is where the grinder comes in."

The university secured funding last year from the Higher Education Funding Council For England's (HEFCE's) £50m Catalyst Fund to develop its model of partnership between industry and academia into new areas – healthcare technologies and the creative and digital sectors. This is intended to stimulate growth in the Sheffield City Region, which has one of the UK's highest concentrations of medical device companies.

Other state-of-the-art equipment at the centre enables high-precision machining processes such as micro-milling and medical-grade grinding, surface finishing, and additive manufacturing in plastics. Facilities for additive manufacturing in metals are being installed, as is a clean room and advanced analytical tools including CT scanning and high-resolution metrology.

Projects include investigating new materials for orthopaedic devices and developing innovative mobility aids for disabled people.

AMRC website

Images: AMRC

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