Innovation in industrial inkjet technology - I4T

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Engineering

Abstract

Industrial inkjet technology involves the generation, manipulation and deposition of very small drops of liquid (typically 20-50 um diameter) under digital control. The UK is recognised internationally as a leader in this area. Inkjet technology already dominates the desktop printing market. In commercial printing, it is rapidly becoming established for short-run applications and has, in only a few years, conquered a market previously occupied by conventional screen-printing equipment, where its great flexibility and inherent scalability give significant advantages. If higher printing speeds and greater quality can be achieved, then it will also be able to move into large-volume commercial printing. Apart from these printing applications, novel opportunities for inkjet deposition are also beginning to be exploited commercially in the manufacturing of high-value, high precision products (e.g. flat-panel displays, printed/plastic electronics, photovoltaic cells for power generation). By extending the existing benefits of inkjet methods (e.g. flexible, digital, non-contact, additive) to attain the speed, coverage and material diversity of conventional printing and manufacturing systems, we can transform inkjet from its present status as a niche technology into a group of mainstream processes, with the UK as a major player. But in order for this transformation to happen, we need a much better understanding of the science underlying the formation and behaviour of very small liquid drops at very short timescales, and to widen the range of materials which can be manipulated in this way, especially to allow fluids with high solids content (i.e. colloidal fluids) to be deposited. This cross-disciplinary programme of research is strongly supported by a consortium of nine UK-based companies and will bring together established research groups from three major UK universities to study three themes focused on key aspects of the industrial inkjet process: the formulation, rheology and jetting behaviour of colloidal printing fluids; understanding and controlling dynamic micro-scale drop impact, spreading and fixing; and development and validation of an advanced process model for industrial inkjet. Within these themes we aim to: develop a theoretical and practical understanding of how to make stable high solid-content colloids suitable for inkjet deposition, and how they behave in an inkjet system and on the substrate; explore post-impact processes that determine the structure and functionality of the printed features, including surface morphology, chemistry and surface treatment, fluid dynamics of wetting and the interaction of successively printed materials; and develop a set of models, validated by precise measurements and underlying physical theory, to describe all aspects of the formation and ultimate fate of ink drops. Industrial beneficiaries will include companies in the fields of inkjet printing and digital manufacturing, as well as other companies involved in the precise manipulation of small liquid droplets: examples of sectors include pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, combustion, coating application, materials processing, and particle technology. Academic beneficiaries, apart from researchers working directly on inkjet technology, will include those in the fields of rheology, fluid mechanics, microfluidics, materials science and surface engineering.

Planned Impact

Immediate beneficiaries from the research will include the nine Project Partners, who represent the majority of UK companies involved in the development of equipment and materials for the industrial application of inkjet and several companies at the forefront of the application of inkjet to printing or manufacturing. The UK is recognised internationally as a leader in this emerging area. The printing industry plays a major role in the UK economy (the printed products market alone is worth ~14 billion annually, not including any manufacturing). In industrial printing, benefits from the work will include: faster printing, in terms of substrate speed and fluid throughput; seamless single-pass printing with sequential deposition of several different kinds of fluid; more accurate feature definition; reduced development timescales for fluids and printing systems, through the use of validated modelling; and the availability of novel tools for monitoring, process design and control, and optimization. Inkjet is also an enabling technology for the potentially disruptive plastics electronics industry, on which the UK is well-placed to capitalise in the near to medium term; it is also employed in the manufacture of photovoltaic power generators. There are also numerous potential applications of inkjet technology within the direct-write area and in other manufacturing sectors; one in particular is the dosing of active agents in pharmaceutical manufacture. The UK has a global presence in the pharmaceutical industry. For manufacturing applications such as these the benefits will include: the ability to deposit a much wider range of materials, including fluids with high solids content; improved ability to predict and control the behaviour of drops on impact; and better fundamental understanding of droplet deposition and spreading. Other industrial sectors which may benefit from the research outputs, either directly or via the enhancement of fundamental understanding, include pharmaceuticals (for drug delivery by inhalation), agrochemicals (e.g. crop spraying and product manufacture), combustion, coating application, materials processing, and particle technology. The use of inkjet printing as a tool for depositing cells and other biological materials for tissue engineering and the fabrication of diagnostic sensors forms a lively research area, and outputs from the programme should be of benefit to future developments, both academic and commercial, in these healthcare-related areas. The generic expertise developed by research staff during the project will be of direct benefit to potential future employers in all the above sectors. The investigators have experience of working with industrial partners and outputs will be transferred through written reports, exchange of 'know-how' through training workshops and/or exchange of staff, through commercial development of instrumentation, and through the supply of software. Benefits to the wider industrial user community, both in the UK and abroad, will result from delivery of the outputs via the usual channels of academic publication and academically-focused seminars and conferences, but also through publication of summary articles in the trade press and through presentations and tutorials at conferences and meetings with a strong industrial attendance. A biennial Symposium on Applied Inkjet Science is also planned and aimed to attract delegates from the industrial research and development sector. In some cases (e.g. improved rheological measurements, diagnostic instrumentation or modelling) outputs may lead to new instruments or software which will be exploited through the universities in accordance with the consortium agreement, for example through licensing agreements or the formation of spin-out companies; the investigators have experience of both routes.

Publications

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Allwood J (2016) Manufacturing at double the speed in Journal of Materials Processing Technology

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Brown P (2015) Controlling picolitre droplet impact dynamics by tailoring the solid subsurface in Colloids and Surfaces A: Physicochemical and Engineering Aspects

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Brown PS (2012) Superhydrophobic hierarchical honeycomb surfaces. in Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids

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Brown PS (2011) Impact of picoliter droplets on superhydrophobic surfaces with ultralow spreading ratios. in Langmuir : the ACS journal of surfaces and colloids

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Castrejon-Pita J (2013) FUTURE, OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES OF INKJET TECHNOLOGIES in Atomization and Sprays

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Castrejon-Pita J. R. (2013) FUTURE, OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES OF INKJET TECHNOLOGIES in ATOMIZATION AND SPRAYS

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Castrejo´n-Pita J (2012) Velocity Profiles in a Cylindrical Liquid Jet by Reconstructed Velocimetry in Journal of Fluids Engineering

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Castrejón-Pita AA (2012) Breakup of liquid filaments. in Physical review letters

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Castrejón-Pita J (2016) Droplet impact onto moving liquids in Journal of Fluid Mechanics

 
Description This research has studied the way in which small drops of liquid are generated and then behave on impact with a surface, in the context of inkjet printing. Inkjet printing is a process which is rapidly replacing more conventional methods for some types of commercial printing, and is also of great interest as a manufacturing process - it can be used to deposit precise patterns of all kinds of materials and so is valuable in the areas of micromanufacturing, electronics, biomanufacturing, medical diagnostics and 3D printing (additive manufacturing). In our work we have extended the understanding of the way in which complex fluids (such as suspensions of particles and solutions of polymers) behave under printing conditions. We have developed powerful computer models for drop and jet formation and experimental methods and equipment which are now being used by industrial partners. We have explored the way in which these very small drops of liquid behave on impact, coalesce with neighbouring drops and merge to form continuous lines. A university spin-out company has been set up to exploit inkjet-printed liquid crystal lasers.
Exploitation Route Many of the findings are already being taken forward by existing industrial partners, and we anticipate their application in diverse industrial sectors, as well as in future research by ourselves and other academic groups.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Creative Economy,Education,Electronics,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Retail,Security and Diplomacy

URL http://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/research/irc/i4t/about/
 
Description The following outputs from the project have been exploited by our industrial partners and others: • increased understanding of the behaviour of fluids with high solids content and containing polymers, leading to the ability to print increasingly complex fluids • improved ability to control drop placement accuracy through better methods of understanding factors controlling jet directionality and aerodynamic effects on drops in flight • improved ability to predict and control the behaviour (spreading/curing/drying) of drops on impact and during coalescence on a non-porous substrate • reduced development timescales for fluids and printing systems, through the use of validated modelling, for complex fluids • the use of advanced imaging techniques including micro-PIV and holographic methods to study flow in nozzles and jets, and also droplet fields . the development of a new filament-stretching rheometer . new understanding of free-surface fluid flow . new method for fabrication of liquid crystal lasers dots by inkjet printing
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Creative Economy,Electronics,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Other
Impact Types Economic

 
Description EPSRC High-End Computing Consortia
Amount £397,424 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/L00030X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2013 
End 05/2018
 
Description EPSRC Industrial CASE Award
Amount £92,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 03/2019
 
Description EPSRC call: Future Formulation of Complex Products
Amount £2,270,560 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N025245/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2016 
End 06/2020
 
Title Trimaster 4 
Description Filament-stretching rheometer with very high speed capability 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Enables study of Newtonian and non-Newtonian fluids by filament-stretching rheometry under conditions close to those experienced in inkjet printing 
 
Description Cambridge Display Technology Ltd 
Organisation Cambridge Display Technology
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2005
 
Description Domino U K Ltd 
Organisation Domino (UK)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2005
 
Description FFEI Limited 
Organisation FFEI
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2005
 
Description Inca Digital Printers Ltd 
Organisation Inca Digital Printers Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2005
 
Description Linx Printing technologies Plc 
Organisation Linx Printing Technologies Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2005
 
Description Sericol Group Ltd 
Organisation Sericol Group Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2005
 
Description Sun Chemical Ltd 
Organisation Sun Chemical Ltd
Country Canada 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2005
 
Description Xaar Plc 
Organisation Xaar plc
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
Start Year 2005
 
Title A novel method for on demand droplet generation 
Description A novel method for on demand droplet generation 
IP Reference GB1214798.9 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted
Licensed No
Impact -
 
Title PRINTING OF LIQUID CRYSTAL DROPLET LASER RESONATORS ON A WET POLYMER SOLUTION AND PRODUCT MADE THEREWITH 
Description Inkjet printed liquid crystal lasers 
IP Reference WO2013175225 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2012
Licensed Commercial In Confidence
Impact Confidential
 
Company Name Ilumink Ltd. 
Description Based upon world-leading breakthroughs in printable laser technology at the University of Cambridge, ilumink is developing new approaches for physical authentication. 
Year Established 2013 
Impact Based upon world-leading breakthroughs in printable laser technology at the University of Cambridge, ilumink is developing new approaches for physical authentication.
Website http://www.ilumink.com/
 
Description Annual public demonstrations during open day event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Various different demonstrations given over the years stimulating interest in fluid dynamics and inkjet technology. Lots of audience participation and positive feedback.

Audience mainly school age children with parents so adding to a positive view about engineering to this group.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010,2011,2012,2013,2014
URL http://www.sciencefestival.cam.ac.uk/
 
Description Invited presentation at The Inkjet Conference, Dusseldorf, October 2015 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact -
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015