Uni of Nottingham steps up its 3D printing potential

Posted on 16 Jun 2015 by Callum Bentley

The Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group (3DPRG) at The University of Nottingham has unveiled its new lab - and it's impressive.

As part of the group’s overall investment in pioneering scientific research for additive manufacturing, the lab is dedicated to research and testing of new materials for 3D Printing and their practical applications, alongside exciting developments in multifunctional 3D printing.

The new equipment in the lab is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and features a new suite of analytical equipment and £2.7m of bespoke additive manufacturing machines found nowhere else in the world.

3DPRG has also teamed up with the University’s School of Pharmacy to research new mechanisms combining additive manufacturing and drug development and delivery, including personalised dosages and customised drug implants.

University of Nottingham's Trent Building (photo courtesy of Wikicommons)
University of Nottingham’s Trent Building (photo courtesy of Wikicommons)

Complementing this investment, 3DPRG has launched a spin-out consulting company, Added Scientific (www.addedscientific.com). This new enterprise is focused on enabling businesses and industry to maximise the impact of additive manufacturing to their organisation and products.

It combines 3DPRG’s technological expertise in 3D Printing materials, processes and design/design systems to work with businesses to explore real-world applications of 3D printing 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 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,” said Karen Brakspear of EPSRC.  “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.”

The new lab’s flagship machines consist of:

  • A bespoke PiXDRO JETx six head ink jetting system by Roth & Rau. It can print structural and functional materials (such as electronic circuits/components for circuit boards) in one go, using up to six different materials at once including metallic and ceramic loaded ‘inks’ as well as a variety of reactive polymers. Each print layer can be custom designed with the machine’s custom design software. 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. 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.

The team will use the Nanoscribe machine for the development of new materials for nano fabrication of multifunctional systems. 3D printing on a nano-scale will open up new fields for additive manufacturing through the ability to fabricate very fine structures that are even smaller than cells that make up the human body.

This is important because it will 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. Furthermore, it will create platforms that allows for the sense and control of cellular communications, greatly contributing to our understanding of the spread and development of disease.

  • A bespoke metal-jetting system, developed in partnership with DEMCON and Océ – a Canon Company. The only machine of its kind in the world, it will help refine and develop new metal printing processes for applications such as 3D electronics. Its four print heads allow it to jet and print molten metal droplets of silver, tin and copper – as well as semi-conducting materials – at temperatures up to 1800 degrees Celsius. These capabilities will make the machine ideal for printing (mixed) metal 3D structures and functional electronics more easily and efficiently.