Building success

Through R&D, innovation and investment in state-of-the-art production facilities, 3T RPD has become the market leading provider of plastic and metal Additive Manufacturing (AM) services in the UK and Europe

Established in 1999 in Newbury, Berkshire, 3T RPD has developed a sterling reputation in the market over the last 17 years and remains unchallenged as the UK’s largest plastic AM (Selective Laser Sintering) provider. Making the strategic decision to relocate to new purpose-built premises in September 2006, the company further expanded its facility in May 2007 to launch its metal AM (Direct Metal Laser Sintering/DMLS) capability. Following major investment in technology and personnel, the company has pushed to the forefront of the metal AM industry.

“The overall objective of 3T RPD is to be the first choice AM Production supplier of plastic and metal parts in the UK and globally. We currently have 70 employees who are working to the same vision; we are growing at approximately 25 per cent year-on-year overall, with metals growing 40 per cent over the last year, the turnover of the business will be roughly £7 million for 2016. Our most important achievement as a business, is that we have set up a platform for rapid growth in AM Production” begins Ian Halliday, CEO of 3T RPD.

“Since joining 3T ten years ago, I’ve been focusing on developing the company to become a global leader in offering a full AM Production service to our customers. It was very clear to me that production would be the future for the business and that we had to push forward from a prototyping company to a highly professional and capable production business through the utilisation of innovative technology: Additive Manufacturing,” adds Ian.

Metal AM, also known as metal 3D printing, is a revolutionary technology that produces 99.99 per cent dense parts directly from 3D CAD data by using powder bed fusion process known as DMLS. Fast, accurate and cost-effective, Metal AM works by fusing together very fine layers of metal powder through using a focused laser beam; this powder bed fusion can create complex geometries such as undercuts, channels through sections, tubes within tubes and internal voids. Plastic AM, also referred to as plastic 3D printing, and Selective Laser Sintering; the process generates highly accurate models and one-off prototype parts for design approval, trial and testing purposes. As with metal AM, parts are built directly from 3D CAD data, which is sliced into layers, loaded onto the AM machine before a computer-directed CO2 melts layers of nylon powder together. After each layer, the process is continued until the part is complete.

Aware that innovation and research is key to the ongoing success of the company, 3T RPD’s team of highly trained engineers and finishers focus on consistently gaining optimum use from these technologies. In recognition of these efforts, the company was awarded AS 9100 Rev C for the production of metal parts using Additive Manufacturing (AM) in April 2012. In addition to this, the company also holds ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 13485:2003 Medical Devices accreditations and is the first AM company in the UK to hold all three of these quality standards.

“By having the highest certification levels AS 9100 Rev C and ISO 13485:2003 we can serve the aerospace and medical markets respectively. At the moment aerospace, industrial and motorsport are our main sectors; this applies principally to metals but also increasingly plastics. Plastic can be used in a vast number of industry sectors; we even offer services for the consumer market, building parts that people have designed at home,” says Ian.

Striving to create an ethos and working environment centred around strong positive corporate and cultural values, 3T firmly believes its success is driven by the skills and attitudes of its carefully selected personnel. This commitment to hiring only the very best is appreciated by customers, who, from the first phone call to the final quality check, are working with experts that know how to deliver a service and products to a superior standard, often in a matter of days.

Commenting on the expertise within 3T RPD, Ian says: “Within the company we have a highly capable group of metallurgists who are expert in developing new metal material applications such as CM247LC, which is something that, as far as I am aware, is manufactured by only one or two other companies across the globe. These experts are also looking at special ways to build parts, RPDdevise innovative support architectures, develop new design approaches for the process and so on. We also have Quality, Production Engineering and New Product Introduction experts, who are working hard to refine our production capabilities, and differentiate us from our peers.”

Complementing these strengths is 3T RPD’s commitment to R&D, which Ian intends to grow to 15 per cent of business activities as the company continues to grow. “You find that, in general, businesses that invest in R&D are very successful,” says Ian. “We have developed a highly capable laboratory with high-end equipment including a scanning electron microscope, a specialised heat treatment furnace, an R&D specific small metal machine (an M100, which has a 100mm platform) as well as a range of analysis equipment.

“This investment in R&D follows the £5 million we have invested over the last two years in machines and metal equipment; we also recently invested in an M400, which is a huge piece of kit with a 400 mm cube build volume, and is another part of our AM Production strategy” he adds.

Having made significant technological investments, 3T RPD has ensured it is fully prepared for future customer demand and the continuous developments within the manufacturing sector. “Over the next 12 months we anticipate winning some substantial production orders and will be launching a number of new materials; we are also developing plans for global expansion and aim to have two new production satellite sites set up over the next three years. In addition, we will be moving into new premises in 2018, so there is plenty for us to be getting on with!” Ian concludes.

Products: Plastic and Metal Additive Manufactured parts for end use and prototyping