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3D printing to lead way in manufacturing revolution


Tom Walls, managing director of Laser Prototypes Europe

Tom Walls, managing director of Laser Prototypes Europe

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Tom Walls, managing director of Laser Prototypes Europe

Manufacturing in Northern Ireland could be "revolutionised" by 3D printing, according to an adviser to companies like Rolls Royce, Boeing and Aston Martin.

US-based Graham Tromans told an event organised by the Centre for Competitiveness and Queen's University that 8% of 3D printing production is currently used in aerospace, including parts for planes, and 24% in consumer products, with healthcare, and automotive industries taking a significant proportion.

Mr Tromans has been supporting projects in China, the USA and the UK and helped develop technology applications at companies such as Bentley Cars, Boeing Aircraft, British Aerospace and F1 racing.

His talk took place at the offices of prototyping company Laser Prototypes Europe, which was set up in 1991 by Tom Walls and is now the oldest rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing bureau in the UK and Ireland.

With growing numbers of universities, schools and businesses set to install 3D looms in future, companies in Northern Ireland have been racing to capitalise on the new technology.

Spectrum Filament in Newry is one of a tiny number of firms in the UK making PLA (polylactic acid) filament which goes into the printers in a range of colours – with most other firms supplying imported filament from places like China.

Centre for Competitiveness chief executive Bob Barbour said that the decisions made by Northern Ireland manufacturers today will shape the future competitiveness of the economy.

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"The factories of the future will be driven by computer technology, driving up quality, improving accuracy, and reducing cost. Northern Ireland firms need to be at the forefront."