A Dublin-based research centre has announced a €4.3 million 3D printing laboratory that is to play a central role in helping to uncover new materials and printing methods which could lead to a range of revolutionary devices.
Amber, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science research centre, which is located at Trinity College Dublin, has launched a new additive manufacturing lab to produce three-dimensional objects without the need for complex moulds or extrusion.
The centre has invested in a suite of 3D printing technology that spans the full spectrum of materials from ceramics and metals, to polymers and biomaterials. Researchers at the lab will be using the first-of-its-kind machinery to try to discover new materials and printing methods that could be drivers for technologies such as the internet of things (IoT), wearable and flexible devices, and personalised healthcare products.
Additive manufacturing, which is more commonly described as “3D printing”, has been hailed in some quarters as part of the “fourth industrial revolution” and it has applications across a wide range of sectors, including aerospace, automotive, healthcare and defence. The market is projected to be worth as much as $600 billion (€491 billion) by 2025.
Amber's centre's director, Prof Michael Morris called additive manufacturing a "game changing" technology and said much of the equipment in the new lab had never been seen before in Ireland.
Henkel, the chemical and consumer goods giant whose brands include Persil, Sellotape, Unibond, Super Glue, RightGuard and Loctite, late last year announced plans to establish its own additive manufacturing operation in Tallaght, Dublin, as part of a multimillion euro investment.
Prof Morris said while companies were moving towards embracing 3D printing, it wasn’t yet fully established in manufacturing, where it is still primarily used as a demonstration of capability.
“As 3D printing has developed it has become particularly useful for design-led manufacturing. It allows designers to move beyond considering the aesthetics value of something on a screen to being able to touch and feel it,” he said.
Science Foundation Ireland has provided €3.3 million in funding for the Amber lab with an additional €1 million coming from the European Research Council.
Among the equipment included is a Lithoz CeraFab 7500, a manufacturing tool that can print a wide range of engineering and biomedical grade ceramics. Also featured is a powerful and highly accurate polymer twin-screw compounder-extruder known as a Brabender KETSE 20/40 EC.
“This is an enormous opportunity because one thing we don’t do very well in Ireland is piloting. The prototyping of new products tends to get sent elsewhere. With additive manufacturing though, we’ll be able to keep more of that here, which will lead to both greater innovation and product improvement generally,” said Prof Morris.
“I think one area where it will really pay dividends is for start-ups that usually raise money on concept and will now be able to go to someone with physical examples, which raises the value of the product from a design to a functioning object. if we’re going to have an innovation-led economy then being able to do that first-stage development is absolutely critical,” he added.
Amber (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) is jointly hosted in Trinity College Dublin by CRANN and the Trinity Centre for Bioengineering, in collaboration with University College Cork and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.
Ireland’s international ranking in the areas of nanoscience and materials science has increased from 6th and 8th respectively in 2013 when Amber was established to 1st and 3rd in 2017.
What’s in the new lab?
Lithoz CeraFab 7500
A ceramic additive manufacturing tool capable of 3D printing a wide range of advanced engineering, and biomedical grade ceramics into highly complex geometries.
Nanoscribe Photonics Professional GT
A highly specialised stereolithography tool, capable of printing a range of UV curable polymers from sub-millimetre down to nano-scale dimensions.
Realizer SLM 50
The highest resolution conventional metal powder bed selective laser melting (SLM) tool available on the market.
3D Systems ProX DMP200
This metal powder bed SLM tool processes very fine and nonregular metal powders.
Brabender KETSE 20/40 EC
A powerful and highly accurate polymer twin-screw compounder-extruder.
Optomec AerosolJet 300 System
This is a printing platform uniquely specified for spatially depositing AMBER’s bespoke liquid exfoliated nano-materials.
MicroDrop Autodrop Gantry
A bespoke ink-jet platform again matched for use for the deposition of AMBER’s bespoke nano-material inks.
Nikon XTH225 ST
This is an essential non-destructive characterisation platform for evaluating the shape/structure and materials design properties of parts fabricated on the above toolsets.