Highlighting best practice as a representative in The Parliamentary Review

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from 3DPRINTUK is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.


Highlighting best practice
Nick Allen, founder and chief
3D printed mountain bike accessories
produced without set-up costs
3DPRINTUK is a low volume batch production business
with a state-of-the-art 3D printing facility in Bow, London.
The small company – turnover is around £1 million this
year and heading for £1.5 million next – has seen years of
continual development into both its management of orders
and its 3D printing expertise. Founder and chief executive Nick
Allen explains that they are now ready to use their cutting-edge
technology to take on more traditional methods of manufacture.
3D printing has been a buzzword for years but it has rarely made it into mainstream
production. Instead 3D printers have been used for product development although
they have been used successfully in specialised high-end markets such as medical and
aerospace. At the consumer level the technology is confined to novelty trinkets being
printed in the home by a select few. There are two main reasons that 3D printing
has not yet revolutionised manufacturing in the UK. Firstly, it is often too expensive
to create end use products, and secondly, the lack of understanding of the quality
achievable from 3D printers. Our mission is to challenge both perceptions.
Started in a shed in 2011, my somewhat utopian aim was to bring 3D printing to
the masses, allowing everyone, not just the larger businesses, to have access to
additive manufacture (3D printing). As the business grew and developed so did my
understanding of the capabilities of the technology. This led the company away from
consumer goods towards the product development and prototyping field, serving an
educated and experienced business clientele. Customers would regularly ask about
»Founder and chief executive:
Nick Allen
»Established in 2011
»Based in Bow, London
»Services: 3D print on-demand
service for prototype and batch
production of end-user parts
»No. of employees: 8
»Capacity: Over 2,000 parts
printed per day
how we could improve the finish of the
printed part and if they could get prices
on higher volumes. Taking these two
factors into consideration we developed
a new pricing model over a number of
years as well as bought in equipment
to improve part quality. This was the
beginning of our production run era.
Tackling traditional
manufacturing methods with
cutting-edge tech
Traditionally most plastic parts are
manufactured using moulding
technologies – these require expensive
set-up costs for the tooling involved
but produce parts at low costs once
money had been invested in tooling.
Producing products additively has a
number of huge advantages. Firstly,
there are no tooling costs. Traditional
moulding methods require tools
to be made; these can cost tens of
thousands of pounds. 3D printing
them does not require these tools so
there is no initial outlay. Secondly,
there are faster lead times. For lower
volumes, parts can be with you in a
number of days rather than weeks
or months. This means that our
production gives small and micro-sized
companies the opportunity to get a
part to market quickly and without
going through the extremely expensive
tooling costs for injection moulding.
Most 3D print bureaux struggle to keep
the unit costs down as there is a lot of
processing and sorting necessary after
the 3D printing is done. We made it our
aim to streamline our systems and order
management to get things in and out
the door as fast as possible. This means
we can produce some parts far cheaper
than our competitors and compete with
the injection moulding world.
It has been our aim for many years
to get into this area, but we have
always struggled to keep the unit costs
down as these are governed by the
constraints of the technology.
After scratching our heads for a
number of years, we realised that
automation is the only way to do this.
Step by step we began to automate
each stage of the process, and every
time we did that we realised that we
had freed up more time to work on the
next stage. Now, a year and a half on,
we have doubled our turnover, yet only
added one member of staff, massively
diluting the overhead costs of running
the business and allowing us to get our
prices down, with our aim to cut them
even further in the near future.
Highly complex engineering parts can be made in low volumes
much cheaper than other manufacturing technologies
Batch runs into the
thousands are possible
Our production
gives small and
companies the
opportunity to
get a part to
market quickly
and without
going through
the extremely
tooling cost
Highlighting best practice
Challenges from growth
Brexit and the value of the pound
impact us greatly, as all of our
materials and equipment are bought
from Germany – this has had a real
impact on our manufacturing costs.
We’ve taken the hit on behalf of the
customer since June 2016 and kept
our prices as they are, which is holding
us back. Our main issue is that if we
increase our prices, we become less
viable as an alternative to injection
moulding. New technologies are
also proving a challenge. As a tech
company, we are always up against it
with advances in technology so need
to remain ahead of the curve. In the
past few years we’ve travelled the
world researching emerging tech in
our field, but amid the hype, we’re yet
to find a process that beats our current
set-up. But we need to keep on top of
emerging trends.
As we grow, so do the number of
printed parts that we have to sort
out each day. To get these out the
door as quickly as possible we need
to continue to develop systems that
allow us to track every part easily
from every angle of the business.
Finally, as the market grows, so does
the competition. With new less-
experienced companies entering the
market we need to count on our
experience and systems to keep ahead.
For us to keep ahead of our
competition, there are three issues
that we have highlighted as being
key going forwards. Firstly, gaining
accreditations. We are in the process
of gaining ISO 9001 accreditation for
our order and quality management to
make our services more appealing.
Secondly, we want to acquire more
equipment. Over the next year we’re
looking to add another £250,000 of kit
to increase our capacity and portfolio
of finishes. Lastly, we are looking
into the potential for a secondary
production-only facility out of London
to take advantage of cheaper rents
and staffing costs. The brain of the
business where all the development is
achieved will remain in London to take
advantage of the skill set.
With our new
developed in-
house, in a
year and a
half we have
doubled our
turnover, yet
only added
one member
One of our many
state-of-the-art SLS 3D
printers being started


This article was sponsored by 3DPRINTUK. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it.