Manufacturing in Hospital: BioMed 4.0

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bath
Department Name: Chemical Engineering

Abstract

Although British healthcare/biomedical manufacturing generates £70 billion/year and 240,000 jobs; its most important yield is a healthy, functional, thriving society. Unexpected externalities such as supply chain disruptions, sustainability requirements and socioeconomic circumstances (e.g. Brexit, COVID-19) pose a threat to this sector and more importantly to the wellbeing of Britain's population. To cope with these threats, it is imperative to develop new and strengthen existing technologies capable of manufacturing precise high-value, patient-personalised products in decentralised settings.

Additive manufacturing technologies, such as 3D printing, have shown these characteristics as they enable prototyping and manufacturing customized products on-site in a rapid, and economic manner. Certainly, 3D printing has revolutionized manufacturing practices and generated tremendous economic benefits to economies worldwide; for instance, in the UK, 3D printing has a revenue of £2.4bn annually. Even so, this technology has major technical issues including, feedstock-performance dependency (printing needs to be calibrated depending of the plastic used), excessive plastic waste production (a major environmental concern), poor printing resolution (nanometer-size structures cannot be printed) and low flexibility in its operation mode (cannot produce long fibres, particles). These technical drawbacks significantly hinder the deployment of 3D printing in many healthcare/biomedical settings.

Inspired by the response of organisms to environmental conditions, this project will develop a novel responsive additive technology (named eHD-3D printing) capable of responding autonomously to feedstock and product requirements, while addressing each of the challenges present in modern 3D printing technologies. To achieve these transformative characteristics, we will integrate bio-inspired modalities (e.g. sensing, thinking and moving). We will employ novel analytical tools that enable sensing the type of material/plastic fed into the unit. This information coupled with the characteristics of the product will allow an AI-algorithm to determine the best operating conditions and operation mode. Beyond conventional 3D printing, the eHD-3D unit will be able to generate particles (0D) and fibres (1D) with a nano-metric resolution, enabling the manufacture of complex multi-scaled structures. Moreover, to demonstrate the transformative features of the eHD-3D unit, a range of geometrically and structurally diverse tissue scaffolds will be manufactured.

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