Dialling up performance for on demand manufacturing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham


3D Printing elicits tremendous excitement from a broad variety of industry - it offers flexible, personalised and on demand scalable manufacture, affording the opportunity to create new products with geometrical / compositional freedoms and advanced functions that are not possible with traditional manufacturing practices. 3D Printing progresses rapidly: for polymerics, we have seen significant advances in our ability to be able to manufacture highly functional structures with high resolution projection through developments in projection micro stereolithography, multimaterial ink jet printing and two photon polymerisation. There have also been exciting advances in volumetric 3DP with the emergence of Computational Axial Lithography and more recent work such as 'xolo'. Alongside these advances there has also been developments in materials, e.g., in the emergence of '4D printing' using responsive polymers and machine learning / AI on 3DP is beginning to be incorporated into our understanding. The impact of these advances is significant, but 3D printing technology is reaching a tipping point where the multiple streams of effort (materials, design, process, product) must be brought together to overcome the barriers that prevent mass take up by industry, i.e., materials produced can often have poor performance and it is challenging to match them to specific processes, with few options available to change this. Industry in general have not found it easy to adopt this promising technology or exploit advanced functionality of materials or design, and this is particularly true in the biotech industries who we target in this programme grant - there is the will and the aspiration to adopt 3D printing but the challenges in going from concept to realisation are currently too steep.

A key challenge stymying the adoption of 3D printing is the ability to go from product idea to product realisation: each step of the workflow (e.g., materials, design, process, product) has significant inter-dependent challenges that means only an integrated approach can ultimately be successful. Industry tells us that they need to go significantly beyond current understanding and that manufacturing products embedded with advanced functionality needs the capability to quickly, predictably, and reliably 'dial up' performance, to meet sector specific needs and specific advanced functionalities. In essence, we need to take a bottom-up, scientific approach to integrate materials, design and process to enable us to produce advanced functional products. It is therefore critical we overcome the challenges associated with identifying, selecting, and processing materials with 3DP in order to facilitate wider adoption of this pivotal manufacturing approach, particularly within the key UK sectors of the economy: regenerative medicine, pharmaceutical and biocatalysis.

Our project will consider four Research Challenges (RCs):
PRODUCT: How can we exploit 3D printing and advanced polymers to create smart 21st Century products ready for use across multiple sectors?
MATERIALS: How can we create the materials that can enable control over advanced functionality / release, that are 3D Printable?
DESIGN: How can we use computational / algorithmic approaches to support materials identification / product design?
PROCESS: How can we integrate synthesis, screening and manufacturing processes to shorten the development and translation pipeline so that we can 'dial up' materials / properties?

By integrating these challenges, and taking a holistic, overarching view on how to realise advanced, highly functional bespoke 3D printed products that have the potential to transform UK high value biotechnology fields and beyond.


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