Contacts: Kathryn Jackson, Institute for Manufacturing
Mentor: Marc Bax
More information: http://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/sustainability/projects/incremental.html
Working with Dr. Julian Allwood, Kathryn has been researching new methods of metal forming, using a technique called incremental sheet forming. This allows a wide range of three-dimensional shapes to be created without the need for specialized tooling.
In traditional metal manufacturing techniques, a unique ‘tool’ is created for each item to be manufactured, which is used to create large numbers of the desired object. Such tools can cost tens of thousands of pounds to make, and as such are most appropriate for high volume products. In this environment, having small numbers of prototypes created can also cost thousands of pounds, even for items that will eventually sell for less than £100. It also means that a long lead time is needed before new products can be manufactured, once their design is finalized, and that mistakes in design are costly both in terms of lost time and the costs of having new tools made.
The incremental sheet formation technique allows the lower cost production of one-off and low volume metal items, making it ideal for prototyping of new designs, and for manufacturing items without long set-up times being needed. An ISF machine is in place in the IfM, the first such machine built outside of Japan.
Some previous work has been carried out regarding the areas in which the technique could be usefully applied (see Dr. Julian Allwood et al. A structured search for applications of the incremental sheet-forming process by product segmentation, Proc. IMechE Part B: J. Engineering Manufacture, 219 239-244), but the research team is keen to see this work extended to include feedback from real potential users of the method.
The i-Team’s role will be to identify and investigate new markets which could have a real need for the benefits offered by the incremental sheet forming technique, by talking to companies and people with experience of those markets, and gathering feedback on their requirements to enable the researchers to assess if the IfM machine is capable of being configured to match those needs. Possible markets include the manufacture and repair of car parts, the manufacture of custom medical devices (eg ankle supports), and casings for electronic products.