Sean Gallagher is a senior additive manufacture development engineer at BAE Systems and a QEPrize Ambassador. We spoke to him to find out a little more about what additive manufacturing really is, and how it can revolutionise design and engineering in the world of aerospace.
What is additive manufacturing and how does it help?
Additive manufacture, or 3D printing, is still a relatively new technology, which has grown massively in the last decade. The growing availability of new metallic and plastic materials continues to develop the scope of the technology, and therefore the impact it can have.
Whilst still supporting modelling and rapid prototyping to help us speed up design development, we can now start to develop products which are more fit for purpose. These can be made quicker, are lighter and often cheaper than conventional methods would allow. All of this means we can be more adaptable to meet our customer’s needs, using a technology that allows us to be more responsive and affordable than ever before.
When it comes to building, an awful lot of material goes to waste, both at the birth and death of a project. In fact, the construction industry sends millions of tonnes of waste to landfill every year, at a huge cost to itself.
In addition to this, new laws mean that by 2020 70% of all construction and demolition waste in UK must be recycled, while none will be allowed to go to landfill. This, coupled with the cost of waste disposal, has set the construction industry on the hunt for materials that are both good for the environment and good for their bottom lines.
Dr Sam Chapman and his spin-out KENOTEQ think they have the solution to just such a problem.
In our consumer-driven society, we have become removed from craft. The products we rely on are built in huge factories far away. Can a sense of craftsmanship be reintroduced into a 21st century domestic setting? What might this look like?
Materials such as polymers can be highly adaptable, but their applications are often limited. As a design engineer, I saw the potential to create a material system that could be customised and crafted by the end user. Initially, I observed the relationship between materials, tools, instructions and the time involved in traditional crafts, like wood working. These often result in changing a material permanently after cutting. Considering that the user might not have expertise in such fields, I wanted to develop a material that could accommodate the learning process by being reversible. The key to the success of the system would be how easy it is to achieve an aesthetically pleasing and functional end product. The result is a reversible ‘plug and play’ material system.
Since its invention in the early 1960s, engineers have fought to improve the design and function of the silicon chip. The building blocks of modern computing, each chip has a circuit etched into its silicon crystal surface. These intricate circuits conduct electricity, switching it on and off to produce a series of ones and zeros. The code can then be used to represent pictures, music and even movies in digital form.
Chipmakers have battled for fifty years to boost their chips power, all the while shrinking them in size. As our demand for smaller devices grows, could the solution lie in a radical move away from silicon?
Engineering often feels like something I stumbled upon accidentally, and it would be dishonest of me to say that I always knew I wanted to be a chemical engineer. Still, my chosen career path allows me to do what I have always been interested in: learning, solving problems, and helping people.
There was never one particular moment that inspired me to become a chemical engineer. Instead, I saw that becoming an engineer would open more doors than other careers would. Being an engineer meant I could work on anything and everything, and so far that has been true.
A brand new design could see cheap yet high-performance solar cells manufactured from everyday materials. Engineers at Stanford and Oxford universities have developed a new type of solar cell, which could even outperform traditional silicon cells.
Solar cells work by collecting light energy from the sun and converting it into an electrical current. In a conventional cell, a layer of silicon crystals absorbs light energy from the sun. This causes electrons to become excited to the point that they are ejected from the material. We can capture the resulting electric current for use as clean electricity.
A cross-section of bamboo, a naturally-occurring porous substance
In our competitive world, we are always looking for more efficient, sustainable and intelligent engineering solutions. We are searching for growth while operating in a resource-depleted, energy-constrained world. The ultimate aim is doing more with less. Many natural resources are reaching their peak in terms of cost or quality. The availability of these raw materials, coupled with the governmental push towards a low carbon economy, puts pressure on the manufacturing industry.