Researchers at The University of Nottingham helped create a landmark exhibition at London’s Science Museum to showcase a technology that is transforming manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing or 3D printing has been termed a new industrial revolution. Using digital data, 3D printers print multiple thin layers of material such as polymer or metal, usually in powder form, which are then fused by lasers to form solid objects.
The technology allows levels of flexibility and customisation beyond traditional industrial methods and is revolutionising approaches to design and manufacturing.
The Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group (3DPRG) at The University of Nottingham is recognised as the world’s leading research centre in the field and is a sponsor and adviser to the exhibition, 3D: printing the future, which opens at the Science Museum on Wednesday 9 October.
Student interns at Nottingham created one of the highlights of the exhibition — a 3D-printed functionalised prosthetic arm illustrating how the technology could evolve to print customised prosthetics with electronic moving parts and nerve endings.
Professor Richard Hague, Professor of Innovative Manufacturing and leader of the research group, said the University was delighted to support the exhibition.
The impact of additive manufacturing — so-called because it uses 3D printers to build up material — is growing rapidly. The wider availability of 3D printers and the prospect of goods being customised and printed at home or on the high street has further raised interest.
Suzy Antoniw of the Science Museum said: “We are indebted to Nottingham’s Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group for all the support they have given to this exhibition. Professor Hague and his team guided us through the complex, evolving field of additive manufacturing and provided valuable advice, fascinating insights and intriguing objects. The prototype prosthetic hand developed by Richard and his students (and showcased in the exhibition) is a prime example of how 3D-printed innovations could transform people’s lives.”
As well as the prosthetic arm created in Nottingham, the exhibition features 3D-printed pharmaceutical tablets, one of a number of collaborations between 3DPRG and the University’s School of Pharmacy. Some of the printed tablets are bilayered, allowing two different drugs to be released at varying speeds according to individual patient need.
Professor Clive Roberts, head of the School of Pharmacy, said 3D printing of solid medicines at point-of-care offered personalised patient treatments beyond the scope of conventional mass manufacturing.
He added: “While there are many practical and regulatory issues to consider I firmly believe that 3D printing will be used in the medicines manufactured in the future.”
The Science Museum will also look at how engineers are using 3D printing to create lighter and more sustainable aerospace parts. This is being explored by Professor Hague’s team and the University’s Institute for Aerospace Technology.
Professor Hague said additive manufacturing would help transform the industrial landscape, with more emphasis on smaller, localised manufacturing.
He said Nottingham is leading research into the next phase of Additive Manufacturing: the 3D printing of mixed materials in multifunctional devices.
“At the moment 3D printing uses single materials, a polymer or a metal, which are fused together with a laser,” he said. “You can create interwoven geometries but they’re still passive. What we’re looking to do is activate those and make them functionalise. So rather than make a component you make the whole system — an example might be rather than print a case for a mobile phone you make the whole phone — all the electronics, the case, the structural aspects, all in one print.”
Professor Hague added that a key strength of the research group was its close collaboration with colleagues working in the physical sciences at the University. The researchers were recently awarded a £2.7m grant from EPRSC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) to work with the School of Pharmacy, which is investigating functionalised drug delivery through the 3D printing of pharmaceuticals.
Another exciting development is new research into the direct 3D printing of metal. “That will be globally unique — nobody else will be working on that,” said Professor Hague. “We are working with an industrial partner to develop a system that jets metal. At the moment you can only jet nano flakes of metal in a polymer ink.”
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More information is available from Professor Richard Hague, Professor of Innovative Manufacturing and Head of the Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group (3DPRG) at The University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 951 3962 Richard.Hague@nottingham.ac.uk; or Robert Ounsworth, Communications Officer, in the Communications Office at The University of Nottingham on +44 (0)115 7484412, firstname.lastname@example.org
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 42,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It was ‘one of the first to embrace a truly international approach to higher education’, according to the Sunday Times University Guide 2013. It is also one of the most popular universities among graduate employers, one of the world’s greenest universities, and winner of the Times Higher Education Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development’. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong and the QS World Rankings.
More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University aims to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its research into global food security.
Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fundraising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news…
The Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Research Group hosts the national EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing and has a research portfolio in excess of £10m. Industrial partners come from sectors such as aerospace, automotive, motorsport, power generation and medical devices, through to fashion, retail, consumer goods and sportswear.
3D: printing the future is a free exhibition and will run in the Antenna gallery at the Science Museum, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD for 9 months from 9 October 2013. www.sciencemuseum.org.uk