Manufacturing with Light 2: Photobioform II

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Mechanical Engineering


Selective formation of metallic nanoparticles in plastics has a wide range of uses for generating conductive tracks, creating antimicrobial surfaces and for the fabrication of sensors and actuators which has a broad spectrum of applications such as microsystems, printed electronics and wearable devices.

Photobioform II aims to develop bio-inspired, industrially relevant manufacturing processes that can selectively pattern metals onto non-conductive substrates using light-harvesting complexes to accelerate the reduction of metal ions embedded into these substrates. The key challenges addressed in this project cover the fields of material science and manufacturing.

The material science challenges include (1) the vast range of materials which can be processed using this method where each material requires different treatment techniques or operational parameters, (2) the need for a better understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the photosynthesis within the light harvesting complexes, (3) the determination of the optimal material formulation for this reduction processes and (4) the understanding of the interdependent factors (wavelength, intensity, etc) acting in this multi-dimensional design space to target the for optimum metallisation process.

The manufacturing challenges cover (1) the interplay between processes and manufacturing techniques (and equipment) to deliver these processes (2) the novel spray coating process using aerosol jetting and (3) the industrial need for high speed, high resolution and low cost photo-patterning techniques. Particular high impact applications of prosthetics and encoders will be used to demonstrate the manufacturing capabilities developed during this research.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
EP/N018265/1 30/10/2015 31/03/2016 £347,680
EP/N018265/2 Transfer EP/N018265/1 01/04/2016 31/03/2019 £303,610
Description The initial speculative feasibility project (Photobioform I - EP/L022133/1) made new scientific breakthroughs and demonstrated the proof of concept around a highly novel concept of 'Green synthesis' methods which can selectively metallise a range of planar, flexible or 3D plastic parts with metal nanoparticles. This new manufacturing approach has the potential to enable low cost, sustainable and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes for the production of metal tracks, antimicrobial surfaces, and electrochemical sensors and actuators, which can benefit a range of industrial applications.

The phase II grant which was secured from this project is to further develop this work and generate industrially-driven proof of concept demonstrators. New UK Industrial partners have been brought into to further accelerate impact of this research including Renishaw and Blatchford. Application areas in 3D encoders and smart prosthetics will be developed during this project to demonstrate the impact of this newly developed manufacturing process chain.
Exploitation Route The approach to selectively metalise 3D printed polymer parts has application areas for further development in:
- electronics manufacture
- sensor systems
- antimicrobial coatings
- smart prosthetics
- a new manufacturing strategy for robotics systems, medical devices and wearable technology.
Sectors Electronics,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description In order to achieve the functionality, miniaturization and reliability of modern electronics systems 3D printing approaches urgently require further innovation in materials and manufacturing processes. This project has developed a new transformative digital fabrication strategy that provides the required mechanical, electrical, thermal and electromagnetic properties for future real-world applications in the fields of electronics, robotics, medicine and communications. This has been achieved by combining 3D printing of high performance polymers (Polyetherimide), light-based selective metallisation of copper traces, and computer-controlled assembly of functional devices and structures. Using this approach, the project has demonstrated high resolution conductive circuitry across flexible and conformal surfaces omitting the need for separate printed circuit boards (PCBs). This research has show how the process is compatible with existing high reliability electronic packaging approaches by surface mount assembling a range of components using solder interconnects. To demonstrate this new capability, devices were manufactured including a highly flexible positional sensor, a pill capsule capable of high frequency wireless communication, and an inductive powering coil for portable and wearable devices. The approach has also demonstrated successful actuation through selective heating of shape memory alloy materials which could provide future new methods for producing complex micromachines and tuneable metadevices.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Electronics,Energy,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Societal,Economic

Description A Platform for Hybrid Manufacturing Process research
Amount £1,675,629 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P027687/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2017 
End 06/2022
Description Acting as an external supervisor for the Phd programme in Medical Nanotechnology of the European School of Molecular Medicine and of the University of Milano 
Organisation University of Milan
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr. Kay provides external guidance and mentoring to a PhD student at the University of Milano who is working on a multidisciplinary research project. Dr, Kay specifically provides technical supervision around the manufacturing processes aspects of the research.
Collaborator Contribution The Phd programme in Medical Nanotechnology of the European School of Molecular Medicine is funded by the European Commission. This specific multidisciplinary PhD the project partners particularly provide a range of scientific and technical input specifically materials science expertise.
Impact New multi-disciplinary research ideas.
Start Year 2016
Description Additive Manufacturing and 3D printing workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The International Microelectronics and Packaging Society (IMAPS) Workshop on Additive Manufacturing (printing) for packaging was hosted by Dr. Robert Kay at Loughborough University on the 22nd October 2015. This workshop brought together a range of individuals primarily from industry in order to introduce them to the current developments and activities in 3D printing applied to the field of electronics. The workshop was split into a morning session which educated these new individuals into the field of Additive Manufacturing and then in the afternoon covered the latest developments in academia and industry around 3D printing for electronics manufacturing. The research findings from two EPSRC projects was also showcased at this event (EP/L017415/1 & EP/L022133/1). Besides the networking benefits from this event the investigators on this grant were able to establish new collaborations with industry on existing and future research activities. The event also raised the awareness of many of the research activities in this field currently being conducted by UK Universities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
Description Industry engagement event at Blatchford (world leading rehabilitation provider with clinical expertise in prosthetics, orthotics, special seating and wheelchairs) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Professor Harris and Dr Kay visited Blatchford on 14th February 2018 to present their research in new manufacturing processes to management and engineering teams. This resulted in questions and discussion regarding how this related to current, emerging, and future devices for rehabilitation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Inspiring the next generation of students into Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering. Smallpeice Trust event at University of Warwick for Year 12 Students, July 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact My aim was to deliver a talk that inspired students into engineering by me sharing my own personal experiences and research activities. The talk received many questions afterwards plus I received feedback by e-mail from some students thanking me for an enjoyable talk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description School Of Mechanical Engineering Seminar, 9th November 2017 Hybrid Additive Manufacturing of 3D Electronic Systems 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 30 individuals from the School of Mechanical Engineering Attended an Invited Colloquium where Dr. Robert Kay presented his portfollio of EPSRC funded research
in the area of "Hybrid Additive Manufacturing of 3D Electronic Systems". This talk has sparked discussions to form new potential research collaborations in the field of Manufacturing Processes Research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017