Why Nigeria must promote additive manufacturing technology – RMRDC DG

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Prof. Hussaini D. Ibrahim, the Director-General of the Raw Material Research and Development Council (RMRDC) in this interview, speaks on the efforts being made to promote local fabrication and design of equipment for processing raw materials. Excerpt:

How is the country fairing in the areas of process equipment design and fabrication locally? 

Nigeria has come a long way in process equipment design and fabrication. From the time import substitution strategy was introduced in the early 1960’s-1980, the country has realised the importance of developing capacity in process equipment design and fabrication locally. One of the mandates of RMRDC at inception in 1987 is to advise on the adaptation of machinery and process for raw materials utilisation. Although, progress is slow, the Council has been able to collaborate with private sector investors, fabricators and various national engineering bodies to develop a number of equipment and components for processing raw materials. The collaboration has led to the development of technologies that are widely used in the manufacturing sector. Among these is development of equipment for actualisation of value chain processing of cashew, shea butter, cotton, cassava, leather, diary, kilishi, etc. The efforts have led to the production of various products from several commodities. Although there are some challenges in terms of mass production and performance level of equipment which results from low capability in equipment design and fabrication, efforts are on to overcome the challenges. Considering that technology is dynamic, we must move with modern trend and also promote 3D or additive method of manufacturing in view of its peculiarities. This technology has opened up new opportunities and provides many possibilities for companies to improve manufacturing efficiency globally.

 

What is additive manufacturing?

Additive Manufacturing (AM) is the recent manufacturing method which builds 3D objects by
adding materials layer-by-layer to produce the object. These materials could be plastic, metal,
concrete, human tissue, polymer and composite materials. At present, limited numbers of materials are available but research is on-going to incorporate more materials for commercial 3D printing. For example, the two widely used materials in Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D printing are the Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) and Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) plastics, although more materials options are being produced like rubber, bronze, wood, etc.

The manufacturing method integrates the technologies of designing and manufacturing of products using Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) Programmes,  Rapid   Manufacturing (RM)/Prototyping (RP), Reverse Engineering, Concurrent Engineering, Virtual Engineering, Knowledge Engineering, Quality Engineering, etc. concepts. Computer Aided Design (CAD) is the use of computer systems to create, modify, analyse or optimize designs. The software is adopted to increase the productivity of the designer, improve the quality of designs, improve communications through documentation, and to create a database for manufacturing. CAD output is usually in the form of electronic files used for 3D printing, machining, or other manufacturing operations.

 

What are the major uses of the AM technology?

3D printing technology is used in prototyping and distributed manufacturing with applications in architecture, construction, industrial design, automotive design, aerospace, military, engineering, etc. It has also become popular in dental and medical technology, fashion, footwear, jewellery, eyewear, food production and many other areas.  3D printers are machines that use the principles of additive manufacturing methods by adopting a CAD model.  The technology is benefiting the manufacturing industry as a whole, particularly the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). This is because it can fabricate a small number of customised parts faster than conventional manufacturing techniques, significantly reducing the time to market and cost.

 

How can you categorize the applications of AM?

There are two main categories of applications of AM in the manufacturing industry. One is rapid prototyping which provides reductions in cost and time. The costs and time saving comes from the prototype manufacturing and product testing stages of innovation. When producing one kind of product, it is very costly to use traditional manufacturing. Additionally, when AM is utilized to produce a prototype, it is much faster compared to traditional manufacturing. Reduced cost and time make companies more efficient and competitive at innovation. The other is in component manufacturing. The production of component requires low quantities of parts that must be printed to certain specifications with little tolerance for error. Over 20% of the 3D printing market is made up of component part production for the aerospace and automotive industries. For instance, in 2013, the aerospace industry had in excess of 22,000 parts in use. The level of success and growth of 3D printing in the sector is an indicator that the level of quality arising from 3D printing parts is satisfactory to tough industry standards.

 

What do you foresee as the major potentials of AM in the near future?

Since the past few years, AM technologies had been playing critical role in improving production systems and enhancing supply chain capabilities. 3D printing has opened up new opportunities and is slowly emerging as a valuable way to improve supply chain efficiencies. The technology has the potential to enable manufacturers to alter their production processes and reduce the number of steps that a product must undergo. The technology has improved processes in many industries, including aerospace, automotive, industrial products, consumer products, defence, architecture and healthcare. It is expected that this technology will keep growing at a fast pace and play a major role in the future of supply chains.

 

What role does AM technology play in the replication of existing components/parts?

The combined uses of 3D scanning and 3D printing technologies allow the replication of real objects without going through the rigours of traditional designing and redesigning techniques that, in many cases, can be too invasive or delicate for cultural heritage artefacts. In an example of a typical application scenario, existing objects can be 3D scanned, modelled, simulated and rapid prototyped.  The resulting 3D model with the captured dimensions can be passed to the 3D printer. The final product is the exact replica of the object already 3D scanned without a single deviation in shapes and dimensions.

 

Does the AM technology have limitations?

While AM as a breakout technology is providing improved manufacturing procedures in industries, there are a number of challenges in applying AM. The major obstacles to the implementation of AM range from the size of objects to be manufactured, government’s policy, liability and intellectual property issues. Others include the present limitations in choices for materials, colours, and surfaces, higher cost for large production runs, limited strength and resistance to heat.

 

What is your organisation doing to promote the 3D Additive Manufacturing technology in Nigeria?

In view of the role of 3D manufacturing technology in accelerating innovation and bridging the gaps in Nigeria’s innovation system, particularly, between research and development (R&D) activities on the one hand and the deployment of technological innovation in domestic production of goods, the  Council has initiated a number of  technology development projects.  Relevant to this is the initiation of a programme tagged Computer Aided Process Equipment Design (CAPED). The entire concept of CAPED is to develop simulation software suites for design of process equipment and plants targeted at mitigating the problems inherent in locally fabricated equipment by road side fabricators and some engineers as a result of non-application of design procedures. This is an engineering and technological corrective measure which is in line with the Council’s mandates of promoting development of process equipment/plants for value addition to locally available raw materials and capacity building in engineering design and fabrication. Apart from producing additional software suites for other universal components used in the industry, the CAPED programme has led to the development of a number of universal components required in the manufacturing sector. The CAPED committee is working on the fabrication of Spray Dryer which software suite has been developed.

For the CAPED project to provide the desired results for national industrial development, the Council is establishing a simulation laboratory at the African Univeristy of Science and Technology (AUST), Abuja. The project is beng carried out in collaboration with engineering bodies in Nigeria. The laboratory is currently beng equipped with requisite facilities (computers, printers, scanners, photocopiers, 3D printers, 3D scanners), etc. Developed simulation software suites for process equipment and plants will be translated into fabrication within the domain of 3D printing and 3D scanning to neutralize the problems of inefficiency, low quality of products,  etc. which are inherent in local fabrication caused by non-application of design procedures at simulation laboratories. Other initatives at the laboratory would include Development of Simulation Software Suites, Validation of the Software Suites using Literature and Process Data, Design of Process/Equipment using the Software Suites and 3D Printing of Process/Equipment using the Software Suites Designs. To facilitate this, the Council has trained its team of engineers on basic principles and procedures involved in additive manufacturing. The training is continous and will cover the areas involved in the technology to ensure effective performance and participation.

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