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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/K039598/1
Title: Bit by bit: Capturing the value from the digital fabrication revolution
Principal Investigator: Minshall, Professor THW
Other Investigators:
Hutchings, Professor I Livesey, Dr F Velu, Dr C
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Engineering
Organisation: University of Cambridge
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 October 2013 Ends: 31 March 2017 Value (£): 649,727
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Information & Knowledge Mgmt
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Creative Industries Information Technologies
Manufacturing
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
07 Mar 2013 NEM in the DE - Interviews Announced
26 Feb 2013 NEM in the DE - Sift Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Digital fabrication (which includes processes termed 'additive manufacturing' or '3D printing') is underpinning a manufacturing revolution. Covering a broad range of technologies that offer the prospects of on-demand, mass personalisation, with more localised, flexible and sustainable production. Digital fabrication is disrupting the organisation of manufacturing and the ways in which companies capture value.

This transformation is only just beginning to become apparent. At present, digital fabrication technologies are widely used for prototyping and have already been adopted in certain niche markets for small production runs of high value - high complexity products. For example, digital fabrication technologies are being used in the aerospace sector and Formula 1 in order to design and produce lighter and complex structural components. These production technologies are also being used in traditional craft sectors such as jewellery, and where product personalisation to the human body is important such as dental implants and hearing aids. As digital fabrication technologies improve, the range of industrial and consumer applications is expected to explode. Digital fabrication has attracted significant attention in the last year to the extent that there is danger of it becoming overhyped. Yet despite significant uncertainty about where in the manufacturing networks value will be captured, an increasing number of entrepreneurial ventures are being attracted to this area. Using a diverse range of business models, these ventures are searching for applications where digital fabrication technologies can offer value. A range of business models is apparent, from the application of these technologies to substitute traditional manufacturing processes in factories, to the creation of 'on-demand' products by consumers at home. This diversity in business models reflects the broad range of commercial opportunities enabled by these digital fabrication technologies, and the high level of market and technological uncertainty typifying this emerging sector. As digital fabrication is gaining wider adoption, a number of economic challenges are also becoming apparent. These include intellectual property issues regarding the respect for and policing of design rights, industry acceptance for standard 3D model file types, and approaches for resolving product liability for mass personalised products. It is essential to identify and remedy challenges such as these before they become barriers to economic growth.

The UK is relatively well placed in terms of its technical expertise in digital fabrication. Recent public and private investments have sought to improve the maturity of these technologies and position the UK as a technical leader in this domain. However, the failure to give appropriate consideration to translating technical leadership into commercial leadership is a problem that has historically stymied UK economic growth. If the UK is to keep its position of excellence in high value manufacturing and compete internationally then it is essential that the UK learns from previous disruptive innovations and establishes a national digital fabrication community that combines technical, commercial and policy perspectives. Doing so will allow the UK to be well positioned for the inevitable consolidation that will occur as dominant technologies and business models emerge. This project aims to ensure that the UK does so by addressing three key questions relating to the emergence of digital fabrication:

1. How will digital fabrication affect the manufacturing landscape?

2. What impacts will this revolution have on manufacturing in the UK?

3. How can UK firms become global leaders in this new age of digital manufacturing?

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.cam.ac.uk