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Additive manufacturing support for SMEs from TWI

TWI has been working with the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership to deliver a pilot project of free engineering and manufacturing support to SMEs.

Fifteen companies received support during the pilot, which covered everything from the fundamentals of welding engineering to advanced manufacturing technologies.

This case study looks at two examples of how the project helped small businesses hoping to capitalise on additive manufacturing techniques.

Perfect timing: additively manufacturing a traditional handmade watch balance

Additive manufacturing presents an opportunity to rethink what is possible when it comes to the creation of small and complex parts – with a level of precision that makes it suitable for even the most demanding application.

Stamford-based Robert Loomes & Co is a small firm honouring a family tradition of handcrafting watches using time-honoured methods that dates back more than 350 years. A team of 12 highly skilled artisans conduct every task associated with the watchmaking process in-house, creating truly all-English watches that are each the result of hundreds of hours of work.

The company was keen to explore how more efficient manufacturing methods might allow it to avoid some of the especially onerous elements of watch component fabrication. It was particularly interested in exploring additive manufacturing for the watch balance – an intricate and fragile component that is repetitive and time-consuming to craft using traditional methods. By joining the technology transfer project, Robert Loomes & Co was able to explore this idea’s potential in partnership with TWI.

TWI used selective laser melting (SLM) to create five examples of cobalt-chromium alloy balances. Each measuring less than 10mm across, the balances were precisely modelled using CAD software before being built up in 25μm layers using a 20μm laser spot size.

Early results were promising, lacking only the smoothness of surface finish required for such a delicate application. Future work will explore using finer metal alloy powder and post-processing techniques to improve the surface finish to an appropriate level. With a little fine-tuning, the cutting-edge manufacturing technology of SLM should be able to synchronise perfectly with this most skilful of artisanal traditions.

Sharing knowledge: providing advice and guidance to a 3D printing company

TWI has been working with additive manufacturing for 25 years, building up a wealth of knowledge and experience that can benefit any business considering moving into the technology.

One of the SMEs to capitalise on this expertise is Photocentric3D, a company established in 2002 that specialises in photopolymer resins. Having recently expanded into producing 3D printers (the term ‘3D printing’ typically referring to consumer-oriented additive manufacturing), the company got in touch with TWI to seek guidance and feedback on its current practices.

TWI carried out a review of Photocentric3D’s 3D printing materials, processes and equipment, put the company in touch with a specialist supplier of additive manufacturing support software and advised the company on how to test its products against recognised industry standards.

So informed, Photocentric3D was able to carry out mechanical testing of parts created using its equipment, establishing performance figures it could use in its product information and marketing materials.

By teaming up with TWI through this technology transfer support project, Photocentric3D was able to draw on the results of a depth of research beyond the reach of a small company. It went on to become an Industrial Member of TWI, to continue to benefit from TWI’s additive manufacturing pedigree.

Find out more

TWI has launched a dedicated additive manufacturing website showcasing its capabilities in this area. Visit www.twiadditivemanufacturing.com to learn more.

To discuss how your business could benefit from free support through the technology transfer programme contact Nick Elbourn on 01223 899299 or 07765 403465, or email contactus@twi.co.uk.

The Additive Manufacturing Technology Transfer project is funded by the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative and managed by TWI.

For more information please email:


contactus@twi.co.uk