£3m 3D printing initiative aims to help Greater Manchester companies build back better

Date: 25/02/2021
Author: Susannah Cole
Company: Manchester Metropolitan University

Greater Manchester businesses are to benefit from a new initiative that will help them understand and utilise 3D printing technology in order to develop innovative products and services within their business.

The new £3.2 million initiative from Manchester Metropolitan University aims to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the region not only continue operating through the pandemic, but also build back better post-pandemic, by supporting them in adopting a new innovation-led culture that will encourage productivity and growth.

Many businesses have already benefited from the University’s 3D-printing support, designing new products such as deaf-friendly face masks.

But the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to cause enormous disruption to businesses across the region, with sectors such as manufacturing being no exception.

From experiencing issues with supply chains, which has made manufacturing products more difficult, to seeing a change in market conditions over the past 12-months – many businesses have been forced to adapt to remain operational.

But the initiative, PrintCity Network, which launches this month, will give companies the opportunity to use 3D scanning as a stop gap in the supply chain, allowing a business to remain operational when the chain is disrupted.

SMEs will also be able to diversify their product ranges and bring new products to the market quickly using 3D printing and digital manufacturing techniques.

PrintCity Network builds on the work of the University’s existing specialist additive and digital manufacturing hub, PrintCity, which offers a space for researchers, students, individuals and businesses alike to train or upskill, and access on-site 3D printing support and a commercial service to help make their manufacturing ambitions a reality.

However, PrintCity Network will take this one-step further, with the aim of developing a network of 150 pioneering, local SMEs – offering them fully-funded technical and business support during a period when finances might be tight.

Professor Craig Banks, Academic Lead for PrintCity, said “More and more businesses have been looking to adopt digital manufacturing techniques, particularly during the pandemic.

“With many traditional supply chains being disrupted, SMEs have turned to PrintCity to use new methods of design and manufacturing during this difficult time, with many needing our support to adopt these new approaches.

“PrintCity has been supporting SMEs since its inception in 2018, utilising existing business support programmes such as the GC Business Growth Hub and Made Smarter North West Pilot Programme.

“But now, with this new, fully-funded service available to Greater Manchester SMEs, PrintCity Network will help support more businesses to innovate, boosting productivity, growth and jobs within the region.”

One such company to benefit from this support is Pennine Consultancy, who designed a concept for a deaf-friendly face mask that incorporated a clear face panel to make lip reading possible.

Pennine engaged PrintCity and is now using the technology and expertise that will be fully-funded for PrintCity Network.

David Butler, Director of Pennine Consultancy, said: “3D printing and vacuum foaming technology has been an absolutely essential element to the development of our product. It has allowed us to do our proof-of-concept and to rapidly produce the prototypes that we have needed efficiently.

“The support of PrintCity has been invaluable, giving us access to both the expertise and technology needed to design a product, which is not only fit-for-purpose, but suitable for the current market.

“I believe countless businesses could benefit from utilising what the University has to offer in this area.”

Mandy Parkinson, Head of Business and Public Engagement at Manchester Metropolitan, added: “In the current climate it will be essential to have a strong base of innovation ready businesses across Greater Manchester, in order to support our economy to recover post COVID-19.

“We see the PrintCity Network as being a key player in helping the Greater Manchester business community in this and we will provide SMEs with a commercially proven step-by-step innovation process, with an end result of either having a product, service or process launchable.”

The project, which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, with the University matching funding to make a total package of £3.2m, will see investment in the latest additive manufacturing technology to add to PrintCity’s already impressive range of onsite equipment.

SMEs working with PrintCity Network will not only have access to this equipment, but will also receive in-depth innovation support in order to develop ideas and prototype new products prior to launch.

PrintCity Network launches this month, with the first cohort of SMEs in April 2021 being provided with much-needed support.

To find out more about PrintCity Network and how to receive support, contact:Printcitynetwork@mmu.ac.uk or visit https://www.mmu.ac.uk/business-school/business/sme-support/printcity-network/