Yorkshire ‘can lead way in 3D printing revolution’

YORKSHIRE can lead the way in a new industrial revolution brought about by 3D printing, according to a distributor of the new technology.

A part for a F1 racing car made by 3D printing

Jo Young, managing director of Ripon-based Express Group, told the Yorkshire Post: “Just as the internet gave us all the opportunity to publish, 3D printing will give us all the opportunity to design and manufacture.”

The privately owned Express Group, which turns over £13m, has launched a new business called GoPrint3D to introduce affordable additive manufacturing technologies to customers in Yorkshire and further afield.

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3D printing produces objects layer by layer directly from a digital file and uses materials ranging from plastic to wood, metal to ceramics and plaster to chocolate, said Ms Young.

Sophisticated examples include artificial knee and hip replacements, lightweight hinges for the aerospace industry, and brackets for Formula One cars.

Ms Young said the expiry of patents in recent years has led to a wave of open-source development and made the technology more affordable.

She said: “Some see a future with a 3D printer in every home, printing out parts for home appliances, or even printing out food.

“Today it is already well-established in the aerospace and automotive industries where there are huge advantages in being able to use the technology to make parts that are more lightweight, as well as being able to make one part, pre-assembled, rather than several individual parts.

“It is used in dental and medical sectors, where for example hearing aids and dental crowns can be 3D printed.

“Industrial manufacturing has used the technology for rapid prototyping for many years and, as quality increases and cost decreases, for final part manufacture.”

3D printing has applications for the creative industries, hobbyists and jewellers, she added.

It is also a powerful tool for education, allowing children to “take an idea, turn it in to a design and then in to an object in their hand, then sell it – learning all about design, manufacture and business”, said Ms Young.

She added that design software is getting easier to use - her 10-year-old son uses a free online programme called Tinkercad - and developers don’t need to own a printer; they can use websites like shapeways.com, which allows people to create and sell high-quality 3D prints in more than 30 different materials.

GoPrint3D is an official reseller of the CubeX printer range from 3D Systems, which is ranked by Forbes as one of America’s fastest-growing tech companies.

It can also provide higher-specification machines.

Ms Young said: “Yorkshire could be a driving force in this new industrial revolution. Why can’t the next factory of the future, full of 3D printers, be located in Yorkshire?

“Our entrepreneurs who adopt the technology can compete with the big boys because they won’t need economies of scale to manufacture.

“Our schools and colleges need to get involved – young people who learn to design in a new way for the new technology will be at a distinct advantage.

“As a visitor to our stand at the Yorkshire Business Market said, ‘It’s a solution just waiting for a problem’ – so let’s find the problems.”

The Express Group is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

It opened in Ripon in 1988 as a national printer repair workshop. Over the years it has grown to become a European specialist distributor of IT parts and supplies for brands including HP, Epson, Samsung and Brother. It has around 100 employees across Europe.

Ms Young joined the business in sales 20 years ago and worked her way up to become managing director eight years ago.

She said: “The company is better known nationally and internationally than it is in Yorkshire. I am looking to change that with GoPrint3D.”

James Blackburn, commercial director, told the Yorkshire Post that the group has “held its own” during the downturn as companies have looked to repair rather than replace printing equipment.