The Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group (3DPRG) at The University of Nottingham has unveiled its new lab dedicated to research and testing of new materials and practical applications for 3D printing.
Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the lab features a new suite of analytical equipment and £2.7m of world-first additive manufacturing machines. 3DPRG has also teamed up with the University’s School of Pharmacy to research new mechanisms combining AM and drug development and delivery, including personalised dosages and customised drug implants.
3DPRG has also launched a spin-out consulting company, Added Scientific, to enable businesses to maximise the impact of additive manufacturing across sectors including electronics, aerospace, pharma, nanotechnology and medicine.
“This new lab and Added Scientific represent a huge step forward in additive manufacturing research and development. We aren’t about printing just shapes or creating objects for their own sake, but about using science and engineering to find new ways to apply additive manufacturing to the real world,” said Professor Richard Hague who leads 3DPRG and is Director of the University’s EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing. “The state-of-the-art equipment in our new lab will allow us to refine the process of multi-functional 3D printing, working with research organisations and industry partners to make 3D printed electronics, pharmaceuticals and conductive materials a safe, viable and cost-effective reality.”
The lab’s flagship machines include a bespoke PiXDRO JETx six head ink jetting system by Roth & Rau, capable of printing structural and in six different functional materials such as metallic and ceramic ‘inks’ and reactive polymers. This technology will enable the manufacture of 3D printed electronics without the need for multiple machines. The machine will also be used to research and test ‘3D printed drugs’, combining the exact dosage of each ingredient into every individual pill, capsule or vaccine based on an individual’s requirements.
A two-photon lithography system from Nanoscribe which is capable of printing polymer-based 3D objects with heights from a few hundred nanometres up to the mesoscale has also been installed. This machine will be used in the lab for industrial applications such as printing and replicating micro-lenses, micro antenna devices for smartphones as well as medical research. 3D printing on a nano-scale will provide the ability to fabricate very fine structures and enable the creation of devices that depend on ‘quantum sensing’ to detect small variations in magnetic fields inside objects. This will then allow the detection of flaws and cracks non-invasively to then make devices with intricate surface features that can enable huge increases in solar cell efficiency.
A four head metal-jetting system, developed in partnership with DEMCON and Océ – a Canon Company, will help refine and develop new metal printing processes for applications such as 3D electronics and mixed metal 3D structures.
Karen Brakspear of EPSRC, added: “The EPSRC is dedicated to developing UK innovation by providing grants and funding for science and engineering research. 3DPRG’s work at The University of Nottingham continues to drive the capabilities additive manufacturing forward. We are pleased to be behind a team performing such ground-breaking research and look forward to its continued impact on not only the scientific community, but on the UK business, engineering and industrial communities.”