Q&A with Tom Wasley, Senior Research Engineer, Manufacturing Technology Centre

Tom Wasley is the Lead engineer in Ceramic Additive Manufacturing within the National Centre for AM at the MTC. He is speaking at The Advanced Materials Show 2019.

1. Tom, you are responsible for the proposal, technical delivery and management of Ceramic AM related projects. What are you working on currently?

Unfortunately, the confidential nature of much of the MTCs work makes discussing specifics very difficult. We are however currently delivering projects using a variety of different Ceramic AM techniques including Binder Jetting and vat polymerisation (often referred to as stereolithography). Our work includes capability evaluation and implementation and scale-up of AM capability into a customer’s current manufacturing workflow, feasibility projects to help the industry understand the capability and potential of the technology and, new machine/process development to suit specific material requirements.

In addition, the National Centre for AM at the MTC is committed to growing its internal capability across the entire Ceramic AM process chain to better serve the needs of UK industry and is therefore working simultaneously on activities in design, material characterisation, build process optimisation, post-processing, de-bind/sintering, inspection and standards development.

2. MTC is committed to supporting UK industrial needs. What are the key challenges and opportunities facing the industry as you see them?

From an AM perspective, it is typically dependant on the TRL (Technology Readiness Level) of the technology/material combination you are using and the industrial sector in which it is being applied. For example, higher TRL challenges for so-called ‘early adopters’ of metal AM which includes limited AM specific standards, flight qualification and manufacturing repeatability. For lower TRL technologies, such as Ceramic AM, the application is currently limited by the breadth of material selection, part anisotropy, cost, as well as awareness and education.

Given the relative immaturity of Ceramic AM technology there are a number of opportunities to drive exploitation of this technology however, I believe the most important of these is education/upskilling in Design for Additive Manufacturing. Perhaps the greatest value offering from manufacturing of ceramic parts via AM is the achievable geometrical complexity thus overcoming a limitation of conventional ceramic manufacturing techniques due to the tooling requirements. These benefits can, in turn, be used to drive performance improvement and perhaps see wider use of ceramic materials as a lower cost, preferred option, as opposed to a material of resort choice.

3. What excites you most about the industry? On which applications do you see Advanced Materials having the biggest impact in the next three years?

One rapidly growing industry within the UK specifically is Space and given the harsh environments experienced during the lifetime of spacecraft, satellites, etc, advanced materials have the potential to make a significant impact in this industry. The increase in commercial space activity offers more opportunities to get new parts and materials into space to prove their capability.

The MTC currently hosts the ESA AM benchmarking centre and is, therefore, operating at the forefront of understanding how AM technology can be implemented in this highly innovative but strictly regulated industry.

4. You are involved with InnovateUK and manage a group dedicated to Ceramic Additive Manufacturing technology. Can you tell us more about this?

The MTC is partly funded through Innovate UK as a member of the High-Value Manufacturing Catapult network designed to connect universities and research institutions with business and public bodies. Through our sector expertise and a cutting-edge facility, we speed up the commercialisation of research, grow existing markets and creating new opportunities. We provide a transparent, unbiased opinion in order to develop the best manufacturing solution for your problem, enabling us to focus on what is best for the UK industry.

We have been working in Ceramic AM for over 5 years however, it has only been identified as a real growth area in the past 2 years. During this time we have spent time raising awareness of the technology, highlighting its added value and, how and when it should be implemented. The increase in industrial demand has therefore provided the MTC with further justification in invest in this area.

5. What are you most looking forward to at The Advanced Materials Show?

I have attended a large number of AM specific trade shows where you see the same faces with a new generation of their machine or, new faces who are trying to penetrate a very crowded marketplace. At the Advanced Materials Show I am excited to view AM from a materials perspective as it provides a great platform for material innovation and collaboration. It is my belief that although machine development will continue, the largest future innovations in AM will come from materials development and I think this is particularly true in the field of ceramics.

6. As one of the show speakers, what can people expect to hear about in your session?

It is essential above all else that the added value associated with Ceramic AM is understood, this will be the main message behind my talk. AM is not a solution to every manufacturing requirement and should be treated as an additional part of a wider toolbox. The justification for using AM should be understood, otherwise, the user risks being burned by false promises and marketing hype.

My talk will provide a brief overview of AM (focussing mostly on ceramics), discuss the relevance of Ceramic AM processes within a conventional Ceramic manufacturing process chain, identify the all-important added value and finally, cover the current state and development needs.