Mimaki joins ADAPT, MIT’s 3D printing development initiative

Mimaki Engineering, a Japanese inkjet printer manufacturer, has joined MIT’s Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies (ADAPT) as a founding member.  

Yasuhiro Haba, Mimaki’s Executive General Manager of Sales Division, said, “Working towards ADAPT’s vision for the amalgamation and evolution of AM technology and digital production, Mimaki will continue to contribute to ADAPT activities through our inkjet technology and mass customization printing solutions.”

Akira Ikeda, Mimaki Engineering Chairman, and Professor John Hart of MIT. Image via Mimaki
Akira Ikeda, Mimaki Engineering Chairman, and Professor John Hart of MIT. Image via Mimaki

Mimaki’s full-color inkjet 3D printing

In the additive world, Mimaki is known for the 3DUJ-553 full-color UV inkjet 3D printer, capable of more than 10 million colors.

One of the clients of Mimaki, JMC Corporation, a Japanese CT scan specialist uses the 3DUJ-553 to 3D print color parts of human anatomy for use in the medical sector.

Mimaki’s customers have reported high quality of color parts made in the 3DUJ-553. Popls Inc., a Japanese printing company, used plaster based 3D printing before acquiring the 3DUJ-553 to supply its customers in the comic market. 

Miki Nakazawa, Executive Vice President of Popls Inc, said, “Using Mimaki’s 3DUJ-553 printer, we were able to show our customers that 3D print has evolved […] Compared with this, our past work seems to be faded.”

On joining the ADAPT center, Mimaki installed the 3DUJ-553, and UJF-7151 plus, a large-format inkjet printer, at the MIT.

Haba said, “Mimaki will utilize the feedback gained through ADAPT activities to help with future product development. We are honored to be selected as one of the founding members of MIT’s ADAPT.”

Mimaki has turned 3D printing into an art with the Mimaki 3D printer 3DUJ-553. Photo by Michael Petch.
Mimaki has turned 3D printing into an art with the Mimaki 3D printer 3DUJ-553. Photo by Michael Petch.

The ADAPT center 

The ADAPT consortium was announced by Professor John Hart at this year’s formnext in Frankfurt. Professor Hart is a renowned mechanical engineer, known for creating the high-speed FDM printer FastFFF and cellulose-based filament.  

The consortium brings professionals from various disciplines, including mechanical engineering, materials science, and business to develop additive manufacturing. The Center also holds research symposiums on additive manufacturing and a members-only annual workshop.

In addition to the above-mentioned efforts, ADAPT also runs a certified online course on additive manufacturing. The 11-week course takes a student from the basics of AM vocabulary to the preparation of parts for 3D printing, and AM product viability analysis.  

Mimaki is among the twelve members to join the ADAPT center so far. Other members include the automotive manufacturer General Motors, British metal 3D printer manufacturer, Renishaw, and German 3D printer maker EOS.

These members contribute funds to ADAPT that are used to further research on additive manufacturing. 

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Featured image shows Akira Ikeda, Mimaki Engineering Chairman, and Professor John Hart of the MIT. Image via Mimaki

Siemens opens £24 million Advanced Manufacturing at the University of Nottingham

Siemens, Europe’s largest industrial manufacturing company, has opened a £24 million research facility at the University of Nottingham (UoN) to accelerate advanced manufacturing technologies.

With a total research portfolio of £80 million, the Advanced Manufacturing Building (AMB) will support the UK’s manufacturing industry by developing new processes involving additive manufacturing, bioengineering, and Operations Management (OM) and Information Systems (IS).

“This new facility heralds the start of something truly special for Nottingham, and will help place the region and indeed the country at the cutting edge of digital manufacturing,” said Juergen Maier, Chief Executive of Siemens UK, upon opening the AMB.

“Why is this important? It’s important because our future lies in driving a new technological revolution focusing on AI, automation, robotics, and 3D printing as well as many other new exciting technologies. It will ensure graduates are at the cutting edge and ready to take up the high productivity, high wage jobs of the future.”

Advanced Manufacturing Building opening lobby view
The Advanced Manufacturing Building lobby. Photo via the University of Nottingham.

The Advanced Manufacturing Building

Financed through the through the Local Growth Fund, the AMB houses UoN’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing (IfAM), a facility measuring approximately 9000 square meters. The IfAM encompasses a multidisciplinary team of academics in the UK, Malaysia, and China.

The AMB follows the recent establishment of Siemens’ £27 million 3D printing facility in Worcester, UK.

“Skills challenges remain a key issue for many manufacturing businesses in the UK, due to factors such as the fast pace of technology development, an aging workforce and a shortage of graduates with relevant multidisciplinary skills and experience,” explained Professor Svetan Ratchev, Director of the IfAM.

“The Institute is helping to shape the manufacturing research agenda nationally and internationally and is supplying the technology and specialist skills to support key industrial sectors and encourage the growth of emerging industries.”

In addition, the AMB houses the Rolls-Royce University Technology Centre in Manufacturing and On-Wing Technology which is working with the UoN on a new range of robot ‘mechanics’ for jet engine maintenance.

Moreover, other areas of research focus at the AMB include advanced materials, drug delivery and tissue engineering, food sciences, human factors, machining and condition monitoring, metrology, process and environmental technologies, and human-machine interactions.

Researcher in the Nottingham Advanced Robotics Laboratory. Photo via the University of Nottingham.
A researcher in the Nottingham Advanced Robotics Laboratory in the AMB. Photo via the University of Nottingham.

The University of Nottingham & additive manufacturing

Several additive manufacturing innovations have sprung from UoN in the past few years. The University previously collaborated with University College London (UCL) to improve human brain mapping with a 3D printed magnetoencephalography (MEG) helmet. Also, UoN researchers developed a 3D printable smart material with a novel way of storing information.

Additionally, Jake Berry, Member of Parliament for Rossendale and Darwen and Minister for the Northern Powerhouse proposal, commented on the establishment of the AMB:

“Our £5 million investment in the University of Nottingham’s new Advanced Manufacturing Building through the Local Growth Fund shows our modern Industrial Strategy in action.”

“This state-of-the-art facility will benefit Nottingham, the Midlands, and the whole UK economy by driving innovation, equipping people to secure highly skilled jobs and supporting manufacturing businesses of all sizes to thrive.”

Robots at work in the Centre for Aerospace Manufacturing (CfAM) housed within the AMB. Photo via the University of Nottingham.
Robots at work in the Centre for Aerospace Manufacturing (CfAM) housed within the AMB. Photo via the University of Nottingham.

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Featured image shows a researcher in the Nottingham Advanced Robotics Laboratory housed in the AMB. Photo via the University of Nottingham.

HQ Visit: MakerBot launches Method performance 3D printer

Today, two years after the launch of the Replicator +, American desktop 3D printer manufacturer and Stratasys subsidiary MakerBot has released the Method. Designed as a mid-way point between the industrial FDM and personal desktop market, MakerBot is calling the Method “the first performance 3D printer.”

Last week, 3D Printing Industry was invited to MakerBot HQ in Brooklyn, NY, ahead of the public launch to speak with the company’s President and CEO, Nadav Goshen, and Forrest Leighton, VP of Marketing.

A strong front in the face of the company’s return with a new product, Goshen explains how, with the Method, MakerBot is looking to “rebuild its core competence” and boost its presence within the engineering sphere.

Forrest Leighton, VP of Marketing at MakerBot (left) and Nadav Goshen, MakerBot President and CEO (right). Photo by Beau Jackson
Forrest Leighton, VP of Marketing at MakerBot (left) and Nadav Goshen, MakerBot President and CEO (right). Photo by Beau Jackson

Eradicating the ‘go figure’ approach

MakerBot’s foundations were, of course, established through the maker movement. In machines made for this market, there is always a willing participation element in the 3D printing process, as Goshen describes “[Operators] find themselves working for the 3D printer […] Up until now [3D printer development] was a refinement of the first RepRap.”

With the Method, however, he adds:

“We stop the ‘go figure’ approach.”

Through analyzing the market, in its transitional phase MakerBot identified “hobbyist, consumers, professional and education” as the four key areas of 3D printing application. Under the direction of Goshen, and inline with Stratasys, the company has selected two of these areas to pursue with the Method, namely “professional” and “education.”

At this point the company also faced a decision. “We could not unlock the professional market with the current desktop 3D printers,” Goshen adds, “including our own.”

And so, “We thought differently. We thought, what are the minimum specifications that you want to have in the professional market, and then, what is the lowest price you can get?”

The MakerBot Method 3D printer. Photo via Beau Jackson
The MakerBot Method 3D printer. Photo via Beau Jackson

MakerBot Method technical specifications

The Method 3D printer is a dual extrusion FDM 3D printer, relying on one nozzle to print soluble supports, and the other to make the object. It has a circulated heat chamber to help with the layer adhesion and overall quality of 3D printed objects. To boost the speed, and reportedly “print up to 2X faster” than other desktop material-extrusion 3D printers, each of the Method’s extruders include heaters with higher processing rates compared to the company’s existing systems.

Test 3D print from the Method. Photo by Beau Jackson
Test 3D print from the Method. Photo by Beau Jackson

With single extrusion, the Method has a max build volume of 19 L x 19 W x 19.6 H cm / 7.5 x 7.5 x 7.75 in. With dual extrusion, this volume is shrunk to 15.2 L x 19 W x 19.6 H cm / 6.0 x 7.5 x 7.75 in.

MakerBot’s operating software for the Method allows the user to 3D print in one of three possible, and automated, modes: Draft, Balanced and Minfill (i.e. hollow.) All objects shown at the press preview day were 3D printed with in Balance mode, providing a good, smooth surface finish.

Other key features of the 3D printer include an ultra-rigid metal frame body, for a more stable print, dry-sealed material bays, and readable RFID chips on the spools, to feedback real-time usage and moisture data, read and delivered in real-time by the 3D printer through its integrated touch screen. The 5″ user interface also includes animations to aid the user in performing operations and the 3D printer’s general setup.

Functional 3D print from the MakerBot Method. Photo by Beau Jackson
Functional 3D print from the MakerBot Method. Photo by Beau Jackson

In the presentation of the machine, user friendliness was one of the key takeaways from the press event last week. From the demonstration, the Method certainly looks like it would operate with a smoothness on-par with a common paper printer. And this, in many ways, is what MakerBot is trying to achieve.

Method availability 

The Method 3D printer is now available for preorder directly through MakerBot, with shipping to begin in the first quarter of 2019. Presently, the company is also looking for on-board partners to offer the system in different companies around the world.

As of now, the machine has been in beta testing for 1 year with between 20 and 50 trusted customers including a handful of research institutions, small consumer electronics companies and, according to Leighton, “all the biggest brands.”

At present, though the Method is an open materials platform, PLA and PVA are the only official materials released by MakerBot for use with the machine. In the near future, the company plans to expand this material availability, along with further operation modes and extruders.

Making bold claims in the closing comments of the press preview at Makerbot HQ, Goshen said “I think every engineer should have three things beside them: a pencil, CAD software and the Method.”

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Featured image shows a closeup of the MakerBot Method 3D printer. Photo by Beau Jackson

BOOK REVIEW Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello

Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing is the brainchild of Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, co-founders of 3D printing “make-tank” Emerging Objects. Published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2018, the book cites Fabricated: The New World of 3D Printing (2012) by Columbia University Creative Machines Lab Director Hod Lipson, and Melba Kurman, author and faculty member at Singularity University, the text that gave us the notion that, with 3D printing:

“Manufacturing complexity is free.”

All in all, it takes a sweeping overview of the current materials available to the 3D printed construction industry and, more marginally, suggests some potential DIY solutions for making suitable materials.

So, is it worth the read?

Recipes section in Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello. Photo by Beau Jackson
Recipes section in Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello. Photo by Beau Jackson

Inside the Emerging Objects’ Cabin of Curiosities

Emerging Objects was founded in 2012 as an R&D studio and consultancy business, investigating “innovative 3D printing solutions for buildings, interiors and environments.”

The Cabin of Curiosities which made the rounds of popular design and news sites in February – March 2018, is the company’s most recent work, and applies 3D printing to make tiles capable of sustaining succulents and other small plants.

As Rael explained to us in an interview at the time of the project, “All the components [of the cabin]are sustainable and made from natural or upcycled waste streams.” a handful of materials explored in the project include, ceramic, sawdust, recycled Chardonnay grape skins and corn-based bio-plastics (i.e. PLA).

Emerging Objects’ Cabin of Curiosities. Photo via Emerging Objects
Anything but boring: Emerging Objects’ Cabin of Curiosities made from 3D printed planter tiles. Photo via Emerging Objects.

Following this project Emerging Objects then launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter named The Bottery: a ceramic 3D printing workshop. Closed June 15, 2018, The Bottery raised $34,193 to realize this idea, with the backing of 275 supporters. The Printing Architecture book was also part of the rewards for this campaign, and was shipped to backers in August.

Exploring materials and texture

Each chapter of Printing Architecture considers a different 3D printable material from the common, e.g. bioplastic, cement, clay, through to the unusual, e.g. coffee, tea, wine and sawdust.

The clear message throughout these chapters is that 3D printing has the potential to be a powerful tool for more creating sustainable architecture. Through extrusion, binder jetting, or whatever technology it may employ, 3D printing is a means of processing some materials that are currently underexplored in the wider construction industry. Though it may not be quite at a competitive scale yet.

Print textures are also extensively explored in the book, an eye-opener for those looking into its potential for the first time. This covers the common “loop” style 3D printing, often applied to plastic and ceramics, through to more uncommon, wavy shapes, some of which resemble fabrics patterns from the 60s and 70s…

3D printed sand structure from Earthscrapers installation at the 2010 Biennale of the Americas in Denver, Colorado.
3D printed sand structure from Earthscrapers installation at the 2010 Biennale of the Americas in Denver, Colorado.

…or the skin of a lychee.

Curry Pot 3D printed in curry and cement from Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing.
Curry Pot 3D printed in curry and cement from Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing.

Final thoughts on Printing Architecture

As is often the case with books written about emerging technologies, some of the references (e.g. to Z Corp 3D printers) are a little outdated, but it could also be a reflection of the nature of present 3D printing R&D. Many scientific researchers do still work with outdated machines. However, this is not enough to detract from the purpose of the book.

As an introduction to 3D printing in construction, Printing Architecture holds up well. It is also a good book to use as inspiration, and serve as a leapfrog to unconvetional creative structures.

The bioplastic Picoroco Wall from Emerging Objects, as featured in Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello.
The bioplastic Picoroco Wall from Emerging Objects, as featured in Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello.

On a deeper level, the thin epilogue of recipes gives an interesting insight into the experimental process that goes on in a materials development lab.

Though modest inside is comparison, Printing Architecture is in many ways an ideal coffee table book: idea for creating an impression and sparking interest in something new.

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Featured image shows Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing by Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello. Photo by Beau Jackson

Volkswagen opens advanced 3D printing center, looks to additive manufacturing in production

The toolmaking unit of German multinational automaker Volkswagen has opened a new advanced 3D printing center. Located in the automotive hub of Wolfsburg, Germany, the facility occupies 3,100 m² of floor space, and houses a range of cutting edge metal additive manufacturing machines.

At this center, VW will be investigating the potential of binder jet 3D printing for prototype and tool production. In the next 2-3 years however, the company expects to be introducing the technology for end use production of parts, which will be key to achieving its projected rate of large 3D printed parts in quantities of over 100,000 units per year.

The move also follows the €10 million Additive Manufacturing Campus inaugurated by competitor BMW earlier in 2018.

"Official opening with 3D scissors: (from left to right) Oliver Schauerte, Head of Research, Materials and Production Processes, Eckhard Ritz, Head of Toolmaking, Volkswagen brand, and Uwe Schwartz, Head of Planning, Volkswagen brand, together open the 3D printing center." Caption and photo via Volkswagen
“Official opening with 3D scissors: (from left to right) Oliver Schauerte, Head of Research, Materials and Production Processes, Eckhard Ritz, Head of Toolmaking, Volkswagen brand, and Uwe Schwartz, Head of Planning, Volkswagen brand, together open the 3D printing center.” Caption and photo via Volkswagen

3D printing at Volkswagen

For years, VW has been experimenting with 3D printing to discover which areas are best suited to its application. Spare parts has been a key driver of this progress, with its development taking place through a number of pilot projects.

At the company’s luxury car brands Audi and Porsche SLM 3D printing has been applied to the light weighting of components, including water connectors for inside the engine of the Audi W12.

In collaboration with desktop 3D printer manufacturer Ultimaker, VW also won Automotive Application of the Year in the 2018 3D Printing Industry Awards (2019 nominations now open) by saving $160k in tooling costs for the Volkswagen Autoeuropa assembly factory.

A 3D printed liftgate badge tool made at Volkswagen Autoeuropa, Portugal Photo via Ultimaker
A 3D printed liftgate badge tool made at Volkswagen Autoeuropa, Portugal. Photo via Ultimaker

According to Dr. Andreas Tostmann, Board Member for Production of the Volkswagen brand, the new Wolfsburg 3D printing center “[…] takes Volkswagen’s additive manufacturing activities to a new level.”

“In two to three years’ time,” he adds, “three-dimensional printing will also become interesting for the first production parts. In the future, we may be able to use 3D printers directly on the production line for vehicle production.”

Powered by HP and Additive Industries

The new center is equipped machines using HP Metal Jet technology. A binder jet based 3D printing method, HP announced the Metal Jet at IMTS 2018, and confirmed VW as an early partner, helping with its development. Standalone Metal Jet systems won’t be be available to the public for at least another 3 years, and at present, the only access currently available is as a “Production Service” led by GKN Powder Metallurgy and Parmatech.

In photos from the official launch, the new facility also appears to house a MetalFAB1 configuration from Dutch large-scale 3D printer manufacturer Additive Industries. Additive Industries has an existing long term partnership with VW which was reaffirmed in a deal from November 2018.

Oliver Pohl, Head of Additive Manufacturing at Volkswagen (third from left) presents the new 3D printing center to visitors from the European Works Council and management. To note: The machine in the background appears to be a MetalFAB1 system from Dutch manufacturer Additive Industries. Photo via Volkswagen
Oliver Pohl, Head of Additive Manufacturing at Volkswagen (third from left) presents the new 3D printing center to visitors from the European Works Council and management. To note: The machine in the background appears to be a MetalFAB1 system from Dutch manufacturer Additive Industries. Photo via Volkswagen

Oliver Pohl, Head of Additive Manufacturing at VW, concludes, “Here, we have created an innovative centre which will be of tremendous strategic importance for Volkswagen in the future.”

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Featured image shows Oliver Pohl, Head of Additive Manufacturing at Volkswagen (third from left) presenting the new 3D printing center to visitors from the European Works Council and management. Photo via Volkswagen

Hobs 3D acquires Canon UK 3D printing business

Hobs 3D, a UK-based 3D printing service bureau, has announced that it has acquired the 3D printing assets of Canon UK, a subsidiary of the Japanese optical and imaging product manufacturer Canon Inc

In partnership with Hobs 3D, Canon UK hopes to utilize the service bureaus resources to serve its customers in 3D printing.

James Duckenfield, CEO of Hobs Group said, “We are delighted to be able to support the excellent client base Canon has built up over recent years. We look forward to being of service to these customers with day-to-day equipment support and consumables, as well as advice on how to get the most out of their equipment from our first-hand experience gained from our 3D printing bureau service.”

An example of a 3D printed architectural model by Hobs 3D. Image via Hobs 3D
An example of a 3D printed architectural model by Hobs 3D. Image via Hobs 3D

3D printing architecture

Hobs 3D is part of The Hobs Group which includes Hobs Repro, a printing and design business, and Anexsys, a legal service specializing in digital forensics (i.e. investigation of digital materials) and electronic disclosure (e-disclosure). 

Since 2014, The Hobs Group is also partners with BGF, a British investment company. Last year, BGF invested £4 million in The Hobs Group, bringing the total investment to £11 million.

Hobs 3D, with branches in London, Manchester, Bristol, and Glasgow, is one of the biggest 3D printing service working in the field of construction and architecture. The company has a wide array of clients such as the British architectural firm Zaha Hadid Limited, University of Glasgow, Transport for London (TFL), and Birmingham City Council, among others.

Hobs 3D uses a range 3D printers from 3D Systems which include the Projet 6000, an SLA printer, a MultiJet Modeling (MJM) printer Projet 2500, and Color Jet Printer Projet 660.  

A ProJet MJP 2500 used by Hobs 3D. Image via 3D Systems
A ProJet MJP 2500 used by Hobs 3D. Image via 3D Systems

Canon in 3D printing 

Canon corporation has been endeavoring to enter the European 3D printing market since 2015, when it partnered with 3D Systems. The same year, the Japanese company also released a prototype of a resin 3D printer. Furthermore, this year Canon came up with the announcement of a ceramic 3D printer and 3D printing materials.

In future, Canon UK hopes to increase its presence in the 3D printing market. Dominic Fahy, Canon UK’s Head of Architecture, Engineering, Construction and Manufacturing, said, “Canon remains committed to pursuing all the growth opportunities we have within our Industrial & Production Solutions business.”

On the deal with Hobs 3D, Fahy added, “To ensure that each of our customers receives the best experience for managing their 3D printing operation going forward, we chose to work with leading company Hobs 3D.”

Fahy continued, “We are happy that our customers are in excellent hands given the company’s long relationship with Canon and proven ability to deliver a high standard of service. We look forward to a continued strong partnership with Hobs 3D.”

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Featured image shows an example of a 3D printed architectural model by Hobs 3D. Image via Hobs 3D.

nScrypt enhances U.S Army’s additive manufacturing capabilities with Factory in a Tool platform

nScrypt, a 3D printer and microdispensing system manufacturer based in Florida, has delivered its 3Dn-1000 multi-material Factory in a Tool (FiT) platform to the U.S. Army’s Redstone Arsenal base in Alabama.

The FiT platform is capable of 3D printing, milling, polishing, pick and place, and post-processing in one tool for complete Printed Circuit Structure (PCS) devices.

nScrypt is proud to work side by side with the Army to enable the warfighter. nScrypt has now delivered a total of 6 FiT systems to multiple Army bases and labs. This 1-meter tool continues to add fast, precision Direct Digital Manufacturing capabilities inside the DoD,” said Ken Church CEO of nScrypt.

The 3Dn-1000 machine during final inspection before shipping. Photo via nScrypt.
The 3Dn-1000 machine during final inspection before shipping. Photo via nScrypt.

The Factory in a Tool platform

FiT is described as a system that, “digitally fabricates anything from 2D and 3D printed circuit structures (PCS) to biological structures and can be used almost anywhere on the digital manufacturing floor.”

The platform has 1 full meter of travel in the XY axis at a speed of up to 1 mps and can run 5 tool heads simultaneously, on a high-precision linear motion gantry. The tool heads can print materials including composites and continuous carbon fiber and features a hopper that can be used to extend the material palette.

Furthermore, the tool heads are monitored by multiple cameras for automated inspection and computer vision routines. A point laser height sensor for Z-tracking and mapping is also included for conformal printing onto objects of various surface shapes. In addition, the total machine dimensions of the FiT system measure at 7’5”x7’4”x6’9”, weighing approximately 12,000lbs (6 tons).

“This system provides up to a meter of printing in X and Y directions while maintaining precision; this will touch many DoD products,” explained Lance Hall, a mechanical engineer from the U. S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center (AMRDEC).

The U.S. Army and additive manufacturing

The U.S Army has integrated additive manufacturing technologies into various operations to save costs and time.  Recognizing its importance, the proposed U.S. military budget for 2018 includes support for an increased use of 3D printing.

The proposed bill highlights that the “significant possibilities that additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, will provide to the Department of Defense, both in revolutionizing the industrial supply chain, as well as in providing radically new technological capabilities.”

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Featured image shows the 3Dn-1000 machine during final inspection before shipping. Photo via nScrypt.

Micro 3D printing mined for future 5G mobile connections

5G, the future of mobile communications, ultra-fast video streaming and autonomous car radar, is seeking precision 3D printing methods for its circuitry.

In a University of Birmingham project set for completion at the end of 2018, two contenders from across the industry have been singled out as potential industrial partners for circuit production.

Now, with a further £743.4 thousand from the British Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the researchers have entered into a further threes years of investigation, in partnership with leading industry stakeholders, including BAE Systems, UK manufacturer Elite Antennas Ltd. and Samsung.

The outcomes of these projects are industry-focused, and tipped to place the UK at the center of developments in “Millimeter-wave Antennas and Components for Future Mobile Broadband Networks” also known as “MILLIBAN.”

Illustration of a mmWave cellular network (after “Millimeter Wave Wireless Communications”, T. S. Rappaport, et al., 2014 Prentice Hall) Image via University of Birmingham
Illustration of a mmWave cellular network (after “Millimeter Wave Wireless Communications”, T. S. Rappaport, et al., 2014 Prentice Hall) Image via University of Birmingham

A multimillion opportunity

For the past three years Professor Michael Lancaster has been the principal investigator of a project which sought to identify micromachining techniques for making circuitry suitable for for use in terahertz (“tremendously high frequency”) communications. Facilitated by over £1 million in funding from the EPSRC, the first stage of this project is set for completion in December 2018.

In the course of this project, Professor Lancaster and colleagues at the University of Birmingham have published 10 papers detailing different approaches for circuit microfabrication. With authors working at Rutherford Appleton Laborator (RAL) and Jaguar Land Rover, capable of implementing the technology in earth observations and car radar.

Still, the team are looking for cutting edge micro 3D printing technologies that fit the brief. Speaking to The Engineer Professor Lancaster explained, “As the devices go up in frequency these components get more difficult to make […] We’re looking for the best companies around the world who can print things very accurately.”

Reportedly, researchers have narrowed down their options to two companies: 3D MicroPrint and SWISSto12.

3D MicroPrint and Swissto12

The product of a co-operation between leading 3D printer manufacturer EOS and laser micromachining company 3D-Micromac, 3D MicroPrint was founded in Chemnitz, Germany, in 2013. The company specializes in the development and sale of Micro Laser Sintering technology through machines and services. Like its big brother, laser sintering, Micro Laser Sintering is a metal 3D printing method that relies on a powdered feedstock. To achieve finer quality prints, the technique simply relies on a smaller laser spot size, and a finer powder feed.

SWISSto12, the second company identified by Professor Lancaster. is based in Ecublens, Switzerland. Its patented technology, based in 3D printing, is designed especially for radio frequency applications combines both metal and polymer feedstocks. The process is ISO certified, and has earned the support of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the EU’s Horizon 2020 project.

What is MILLIBAN?

One of the next steps for Professor Lancaster and colleagues is a further ESPRC funded project titled MILLIBAN.

MILLIBAN (Not to be confused with former British Labour party leader Ed Miliband) focuses on the development of devices that exploit bandwidths between 30 Ghz and 300 Ghz, known as the extremely high frequency (EHF) range, a step ahead of terahertz. Due to nature of this bandwidth, though fast, these waves only have a range of 1 km, making them challenging for the transmission of data. As such, EHF is presently underexploited by the telecommunications industry, and a great deal of effort is being applied to figure out how to make use of the waves, through things such as MILLIBAN.

The University of Birmingham’s MILLIBAN project is led by Dr. Alexandros Feresidis, with Professor Lancaster and Professor Peter Gardner, listed as co-investigators. The project has been running since April 2017, and will receive funding for the next two years before it must be reviewed.

While the project remains a technology-agnostic pursuit, according to the MILLIBAN grant application form, “We will develop new paradigms in antenna design leading to breakthroughs in the analogue beamforming performance. This will be based on innovative enabling material technology along with state of the art microfabrication processes building on heritage at the applicants’ institutions.”

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Featured image shows miniature rooks 3D printed using Micro Laser Sintering. Photo via 3D MicroPrint 

Stratasys to 3D print spare parts on demand for Angel Trains

Angel Trains, a British rolling stock operator company (ROSCO), has partnered with Stratasys and ESG Rail, a Derby-based engineering consultant, to 3D print replacement parts for trains.

Technical Director of Angel Trains, Mark Hicks, said, “We are proud to be driving this innovation with ESG Rail and Stratasys and hope that this solution will help to free the industry from technological constraints, and allow our trains to continue to meet passengers’ needs now and in the future.”

3D printed train components for Angel Trains. Image via Stratasys
3D printed train components for Angel Trains. Image via Stratasys

Rolling stock operators

ROSCO companies, like Angel Trains, own and maintain railway carriages and engines, and lease them to train operating companies, such as the Great Western Railway (GWR)  East Midland Trains, and Arriva Rail London.

Established in 1994, Angel Trains is among the three original ROSCO companies created as a result of privatization of British Rail, the other two being Eversholt Rail Group and Porterbrook

Angel Train’s latest collaborator, ESG Rail, is a consultancy business. It was founded in 1995 as part of EWS (English, Welsh, and Scottish) railways and is now owned by the German railway company Deutsche Bahn, driver of the mobility goes additive network which involved 3D printed parts for its trains.

A GWR train. Image via Rail Technology Magazine
A GWR train. Image via Rail Technology Magazine

Part obsolescence 

According to a report by policy research institute RAND Europe, in the aerospace and defense industry, “It is not unusual that 70–80 % of the electronic components become obsolescent before the system has been deployed for the first time.”

Using 3D printing, not only defense but other industries such as the maritime and farming industries, have made an effort to counter such issues. 

The latest partnership between Angel Trains, ESG and Stratasys address similar problems in the railway sector. 

Martin Stevens, ESG Rail’s Mechanical Engineering Manager, commented, “We believe that this emerging method of manufacturing will reduce costs, production times and issues faced by component obsolescence.”

3D printed train parts

The replacement parts for Angel Trains are made using Stratasys’ FDM technology. Among the materials used for the project are the engineering-grade Antero 800NA, a PEKK-based wear-resistant plastic, compatible with the Fortus 450mc. After testing the Antero 800NA, it was found that the material is compliant with Railway Standard EN 45545-2, a fire behavior classification of materials used on trains.

At present, the 3D printed parts include an armrest, grab handle, and seat back table. All these components have been tested by ESG Rail for compliance with railway standards. Further testing will take place in 2019 on in-service passenger trains. These trials will run until the end of the next summer. 

Stratasys’ Yann Rageul, Manager, Strategic Account Team EMEA, said,  “With the highest level of repeatability in the industry and advanced, rail-certified, materials, we believe our FDM additive manufacturing solutions offer huge potential to replace traditional manufacturing for a diverse range of applications within the rail industry.”

A 3D printed seat back table. Image via Stratasys

Furthermore, on-demand manufacturing is expected to save warehousing costs associated with mass manufacturing, in turn delivering lower costs to customers. Mark Hicks added:

“This exciting industry-first collaboration has the potential to transform manufacturing within the rail industry.”

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Featured image shows a 3D printed grab handle. Image via Stratasys.

Wyss Institute applies “try before you buy” initiative to 3D printed heart valves

A team from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, Massachusetts, have created a 3D printing workflow to predict the performance of artificial heart valves.

A kind of “try before your buy” approach, the researchers have created a software that simulates a valve’s reaction with a patient’s native tissue, and provides accurate medical models specific to each person. In addition, a custom 3D printed “sizer” has been created for a physical demonstration of a valve’s fit.

Together, these features mean  surgeons are better prepared to identify risk in relation to a patient’s needs and transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TVAR) operations.

"3D printed models of four patients’ unique aortic valves are shown next to the CT scans from which they were created (calcified deposits are shown in white)." Image and caption via Wyss Institute at Harvard University
“3D printed models of four patients’ unique aortic valves are shown next to the CT scans from which they were created (calcified deposits are shown in white).” Image and caption via Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Like shoe shopping…for surgeons

One of the barriers to creating highly accurate, leak-free replacement heart valves is an ability to map the thin “leaflets” of tissue within the thicker walls of a heart’s aorta. In CT scans, these leaflets are faint. However, by identifying seven key points that show up in a CT scan, the Wyss Institute’s software can accurately restructure a patient’s heart valve in its entirety.

After this step a medical model of the patient’s heart, complete with leaflets and any naturally-occuring calcification, is 3D printed using a multimaterial system.

With this physical model, surgeons can then apply the adjustable 3D printed sizer device to determine how an artificial valve would fit inside the natural tissue.

James Weaver, Wyss Institute Senior Research Scientist, likens this process to clothes shopping, “If you buy a pair of shoes online without trying them on first, there’s a good chance they’re not going to fit properly,” he explains.

“Sizing replacement TAVR valves poses a similar problem, in that doctors don’t get the opportunity to evaluate how a specific valve size will fit with a patient’s anatomy before surgery.”

The Wyss Institute's 3D printed sizer. Photo via Wyss Institute at Harvard University
The Wyss Institute’s 3D printed sizer. Photo via Wyss Institute at Harvard University

To operate or not to operate?

Putting theory into practice, the team compared predictions from its 3D printed workflow to data from 30 patients who had previously undergone TAVR procedures.

In some of the these cases, leakages had occurred. By applying the sizer and modeling software, the Wyss team proved capable of predicting the rate of leakage in these cases with 60-73% accuracy. This result validated the team’s approach and gave them further areas for future improvement.

Beth Ripley, co-author and collaborator on the Wyss Institute research who was a fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital at the time of the study, said, “Being able to identify intermediate- and low-risk patients whose heart valve anatomy gives them a higher probability of complications from TAVR is critical, and we’ve never had a non-invasive way to accurately determine that before.”

“Those patients might be better served by surgery, as the risks of an imperfect TAVR result might outweigh its benefits.”

The results of a study applying this unique method, titled “Pre-procedural fit-testing of TAVR valves using parametric modeling and 3D printing,” have been published online in the Journal of Cardiovascular Computed Tomography. The paper is co-authored by Ahmed Hosny, Joshua D. Dilley, Tatiana Kelil. Moses Mathur, Mason N. Dean, James C. Weaver and Beth Ripley.

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Featured image shows 3D printed medical models of heart valves and varying degrees of calcification. Photo via Wyss Institute at Harvard University