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Teesside’s role in a new manufacturing revolution

02 April 2012


A revolutionary way of manufacturing using 3D printing of anything from shoes to medical implants is to be investigated by a consortium of partners across Europe which includes Teesside University.

Advances in digital fabrication are breaking down barriers in producing products such as implants which can be built to an individual patient’s specification. The vision is to be able to create products that can be produced locally, easily distributed, customisable and improve the competitiveness of the European manufacturing sector.

A major two-year €1.2m project across seven European countries will define and promote advances in innovation for digital fabrication and its use with new materials and processes.

Professor Zulfiqur Ali, Dean of Teesside University’s Graduate Research School and head of Nano and Microsystems research within the Technology Futures Institute is leading the Teesside University participation within the research programme. The other partners in the UK include the Centre for Process Innovation Limited (CPI) and the Universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Newcastle and Loughborough.

Professor Ali believes there will be exciting times ahead for a number of sectors including medical, lighting and display and security. In the medical area, recent advances have included a 3D printed lower jaw, made of titanium with bioceramic coating, which has been implanted in a woman, as well artificial blood vessels that could be used for transplants of laboratory created organs.

Digital fabrication provides a new manufacturing approach that uses computer-controlled tools and novel processes to transform digital designs and materials directly into useful products. The Innovation for Digital Fabrication (DIGINOVA) project will examine the most promising market opportunities for the European manufacturing and related materials industry to identify where a shift to digital fabrication will add the most value.

The project is being led by OCE TECHNOLOGIES B.V. in The Netherlands, part of the Canon group, and is being funded under the Nanotechnologies and Materials Processing theme of Framework Programme 7, the European Commission’s research programme. The DIGINOVA consortium consists of four large companies, seven small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and nine research institutes.

The consortium will identify and connect the main stakeholders through the establishment of innovation networks to determine the added value and feasible routes to commercialisation. The findings will result in a digital fabrication roadmap describing new business as well as technology drivers, aligned with a map of the most attractive innovative product categories for applications of new materials and processes to direct innovation in materials and digital fabrication to transform EU industries.