Foresight Fellowship in Manufacturing: Defining and Fabricating New Passive Bio-Sensing Wireless Tag Technologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Kent
Department Name: Sch of Engineering & Digital Arts


The fellowship will use 3 selected international leading researchers to help develop passive Biosensors as candidates for widespread fabrication by additive manufacturing techniques. These sensors will be read wirelessly, they will be microscale and directly integrated into surfaces of medical implants, packaging or transfer tattoos. The sensors could be produced in great numbers, or they may be very specific meaning only a few are needed. Therefore, producing them locally by inkjet style additive manufacture is highly desirable. When these communicating sensors can be made very thin, very cheap and reliable, they can be widely applied and will form an enabling technology of the Internet of Things. The international researchers are Profs John Rogers in Illinois, Leena Ukkonen in Tampere and Prof Gaetano Marrocco in Rome. The manufacturing research is underpinned by Prof S Yeates at the Manchester Centre for Digital Fabrication.

If a wireless sensor is to be very low profile and cheap, it cannot have a battery meaning it must be passive. Some strain, dampness, chemical vapour and pressure sensors are being developed based on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. These sensors offer potential to enable the Internet of Things, but they do not have the very high sensitivity or selectivity required to detect a biological agent such as the microbial products that cause infection. Additionally, the sensors and their antennas are directly integrated with functional materials that currently makes their manufacturing a complex issue and they are often large in size compared to integrated technologies.

Producing passive wireless biosensors is a major challenge and cross several discipline boundaries: Bioscience, materials science, electronic engineering, chemistry, ink formulation and additive manufacture. Creating a transducer that converts a small probe response to a large enough electrical change to modulate the transmission of the RFID link is key. This pivots on effecting a significant change in permittivity associated with an antenna substrate or its feed matching system when a particular 'sensed' parameter occurs. Obtaining a sufficiently large change in capacitance or conductivity requires expertise in functional materials science and antenna engineering. The proposed sensors will require manufacturing processes to realize structures that are not currently producible, or that require high-end tooling and clean room processes which compounds the barriers to manufacturing passive wireless biosensors. Although there are many potential applications of microsystem wireless sensors integrated into surfaces, the specific applications considered in this fellowship are firstly to detect biofilms on silicone valves in voice prostheses and secondly, to develop efficient epidermal sensing tags for skin based health monitoring.

The identified key challenges of the work are:
1. Obtaining sensitivity to small concentrations, and selectivity of, bio-agents
2. Achieving efficient transducing between bio-sensing probe and passive wireless terminal
3. Incorporation of active bio-active functional materials onto surfaces
4. Fabrication of activated sensing microsystems

These challenges will be met through 3 activities:
(a) Additive manufacture of Micro-Surface Patterning and 3D Micro-system bio-sensing cantilevers with Prof Leena Ukkonen in Tampere, Finland.
(b) Creating Auto-Tuning Epidermal Tags on Bio-Compatible Materials with Prof Gaetano Marrocco in Rome, Italy.
(c) Identifying optimal technology combinations for integration into epidermal systems and road mapping future manufacturing techniques with Prof John Rogers in Illinois, US.

The bioscience and materials science expertise is provided at Kent by Drs C. Gourlay and S. Holder respectively.

Planned Impact

I will provide showcase demonstrators of accessible biosensers on surfaces including the skin. I am in a strong position to showcase my outputs being the only academic partner of the Government's Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative (AMSCI). The project is led by CPI and other members include Near field Solutions, Invotec (PEL), PragmatIC, Hasbro, Mercian Labels, Innovia, Optek, Silvaco, BPIF, TIMS and Crown Packaging Ltd. Showcasing to these partners will identify important and relevant future market directions.

The key short term impact arises from the 3 core activities, each resulting in a showcase demonstrator or recommendation roadmap. Activity 1 demonstrates microsystem sensors created by direct additive manufacture and impacts on biohazard and bio-health professionals. The use of RFID as the RF transponder technology brings forward the possible impact time. The ability to manufacture these devices locally and responsively will drive interest as medical devices are niche and may have a fixed shelf life. Activity 2 demonstrates auto-tuning tags for mounting on skin and other challenging surfaces. This concept is of interest to the industrialists who contact me about epidermal tags for authentication, payment, ticketing, health sensing and assistive technologies, yet where application is limited by constrained read ranges owing to detuning. Activity 3 has an overview road mapping objective informed by end users. It is anticipated that this will be made widely available in the form of professional publications and by EPSRC at the end of the fellowship. As part of our regular performance monitoring with my industrial partners from AMSCI, I will seek advice on possible impact opportunities at all meetings.

Links to all our showcased demonstrators will be made available on the project and successor websites and through my Manchester academic partners at the EPSRC Large Area Electronics Centre (comprising Cambridge, Imperial, Manchester, Swansea), our joint work will feed into the International Electrotechnical Committee 119 through the UK Plastics Electronics Leadership Group.

For wider interest in manufacturing and to encourage future skilled workers to enter the field, I will devise an activity for the 2018 national Big Bang Science Fair. I will seek to provide an event that requires school children and the public to problem solve as well as appreciate the latest outputs from UK research & industry. This is a high impact national show over 4 days.

My strategy for community building is contribution to, (and organising a session at), the EPSRC Manufacturing the Future Conference for academics and industry working in additive manufacturing. My international research partners including Prof John Rogers will visit the UK and deliver keynotes on our developing Future of Manufacturing Roadmap.

My TSB project 'authenticated Self' (led by SME Evidentia Ltd), makes my research facilities available to an industrially focused project and transfers my epidermal RFID sensing expertise out to industrial developers at Evidentia though IP agreement with my university's enterprise office.

Following previous EPSRC funding, I was able to trial several concept designs after approaches from industry and expect to continue in this manner with this scholarship. Invotec (PEL) and CPI which are part of the AMSCI consortium both run prototyping and short run concept demonstration services which I will be able to access and this can facilitate transfer to interested industrialists.
My EPSRC funded RFID characterisation equipment can be shared, bringing together researchers and industrialists interested in passive sensing and RFID. These facilities are publicised by my School's industrial liaison officer who approaches and coordinates prospective users and collaborators.

Finally, we will also publish in high profile journals and participate in professional institution events.


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Description In developing passive sensors of fungal infection on implants, new ways of functionalising silicone (PDMS) elastomer to improve its antimicrobial properties have been identified.
Reduced size capacitive sensing RFID for mounting on voice prostheses are being developed. Additionally, passive pressure wireless sensors are in development to indicate the quality of the seal offered by pressure cuffs around tracheal tubing. We are also creating passive wireless pH sensors and dielectric sensors to assess the saline level of liquids.
Exploitation Route We are working with a Biotechnology company to functionalise our sensors using aptomers as a cheaper alternative to antibodies in imuno-assay based wireless sensing. We are also working with the East Kent Universities Foundation Hospital Trust special interest group to develop new management strategies for prosthetic larynx management.
We have interest from a bio-assay company for making assay tests wirelessly readable for large scale accurate logging in developing and developed countries.
Our new reduced size sensing antennas are receiving interest for follow on funding from Smiths Medical.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Electronics,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Our findings have been used to engage with medical device manufacturer Smiths Medical who have attended our meetings along with a medical advisory team from the East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust. Smiths remain interested in the potential of our work to realize passive pressure sensing devices to ensure the efficacy of seals around tracheal tubing. To this end they are assisting in the protection of some of the arising IP and they are acting as industrial partners in translational follow on fund applications. Our research findings developing new reduced size skin mounted wireless sensors and sensing antennas for mounting on throat prostheses has been accepted for publication in IEEE Sensor, and we will be presenting the work in an invited workshop at IEEE Body Sensor Networks in Chicago in May 2019.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Electronics,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description Manufacturing the Future
Amount £1,289,916 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R02331X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 03/2021
Description Manufacturing the Future
Amount £1,305,276 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P02713X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
End 07/2020
Description CPI 
Organisation Centre for Process Innovation (CPI)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Awareness raising of future fabrication demands for new sensing technologies.
Collaborator Contribution Access to facilities and advice to towards eventual transfer of research outputs to manufacturing trials. Free access to residential Printed Electronics training programme - 3 team members trained. Expert advice on ink formulation and bio-resorbable materials (conducting and non-conducting). Issuing of press release.
Impact Multidisciplinary between antenna engineering and manufacturing.
Start Year 2016
Description Hosting of visiting research students 
Organisation University of Rome Tor Vergata
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Building on an established relationship with the pervasive sensing group at Roma tor Vergata, 2 research students were hosted at the University of Kent.
Collaborator Contribution The visiting researchers presented their work on passive epidermal sensing RFID and engaged in joint research projects during their stay at Kent. One student investigated the feasibility of Near Field Coupled (NFC) RFID as a basis for sensing fungal infection on voice prostheses. The visit ended with early designs for the tag and the sensing device being developed. The second student engaged with the Schools of Engineering and Physics Sciences at Kent to prototype and test an ultrathin polymer based battery for inclusion in battery assisted RFID tag labels and tattoo transfers. The visit ended with the testing of an early prototype.
Impact A first prototype of a polymer based tag label with an integrated battery.
Start Year 2016
Description John Rogers 
Organisation Michigan Technological University
Department Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution A week long research visit to Rogers' group at Urbana-Champagne, Illinois, resulted in the sharing of ideas regarding new epidermally mounted skin-sensing technologies.
Collaborator Contribution Prof Rogers has agreed to produce prototype structures for evaluation and characterisation. There is also the opportunity for collaboration on high-end, high impact journal papers.
Impact This is a newly established collaboration with the first interactions still underway.
Start Year 2016
Description Marrocco 
Organisation University of Rome Tor Vergata
Department Pervasive Electromagnetics Lab
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As part of a series of research visits to Prof Marrocco's group I am contributing to their work on epidermal, passive wireless sensing systems. We are also jointly organising a special session in this area at the 2016 IEEE Antennas and Propagation - Symposium in Puerto Rica.
Collaborator Contribution Prof Marrocco will be visiting the UK to contribute ideas and advice to the Antennas Group at Kent regarding passive wireless sensing devices for healthcare.
Impact This is a new collaboration and the first interactions are still occurring.
Start Year 2015
Description Ukkonen 
Organisation Tampere University of Technology
Country Finland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Advice on movement sensing technologies for epidermal platforms.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting of experiments to create by high resolution additive manufacture accelerometer based cantilever systems.
Impact This is a newly established collaboration and the outcomes are still being determined.
Start Year 2016
Description Expo exposure at National Assisted Living Show 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Patients, carers and/or patient groups
Results and Impact Demonstration of assistive technology (including skin mountable RFID movement sensors) to the disabled community, families and carers at a national trade show.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
Description Manufacturing Activity at the National Big Bang Science Fair 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The activity presents the contrast between traditional first Industrial Revolution factory based mass production and state of the art 4th Industrial Revolution dynamically printed technology. As well as providing an engaging and accessible challenge, the activity is designed to raise awareness in young people that engineering and manufacturing are significant sectors in the UK economy and that a significant increase in the relevantly skilled future work force is required. Participants schools are logged and discussion is provoked throughout the activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
Description Media request 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Media interview approaches from Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse and the IET to comment on Free volt technology release. The approach arose from recent publicity of my EPRSC Fellowship.
National and European coverage of my views resulted.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description UK Makerspace - Fourth Industrial Revolution Manufacturing 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Schools and general public are given the opportunity to use conductive inks to draw RFID tags. These are tested and results are recorded, illustrating which designs are best.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018