8 November 2017 12:38

Businesses, researchers, students and school children are amongst some of the groups benefiting from enhanced additive manufacturing capabilities at Lancaster University’s Engineering Department.

Additive manufacturing describes the process of building parts and assemblies in a layer-by-layer method - often referred to as ‘3D printing’.

The University’s Engineering Department has invested in next-generation additive manufacturing equipment in the form of a ‘Stratasys J750 PolyJet’ machine. The £250K investment brings the first J750 operational to a UK university and enables the rapid fabrication of components consisting of different materials and colours – vastly opening up new design and innovation potential.

The applications of previous additive manufacturing technologies are typically limited by only being able to ‘print’ in one material or colour.

Within just a year the technology has benefitted a range of users - including almost 460 schoolchildren, 37 SMEs and around 200 undergraduate and postgraduate students.

One company benefiting directly from the J750 PolyJet technology is Preston-based StormMeister, which specialises in flood protection doors for homes and offices. The company has been working with engineers at Lancaster to develop new designs for door seals that prevent water from getting inside buildings. Innovative new products in this area help to build the resilience of communities in the wake of natural disasters such as Storm Desmond, which had severe and lasting impacts when it hit the Lancaster district in December 2015.

Lancaster Graduate Engineer Samuel Walsh has worked closely with StormMeister using the Stratasys J750 to develop single-piece seals made from several different blended materials, which aims to replace the company’s previous designs. This new geometric design with its improved ability to protect against ingress of flood water should also enable easier and cheaper manufacturing and allow StormMeister to install seals in their door frames at their factory as well as on-site – minimising disruption to customers and reducing potential for installation error.

Malcolm Snape from StormMeister said: “I am impressed with the contribution that the Engineering Department is making to the StormMeister Research and Development Programme. At considerable saving in cost the research has enabled us to prototype a new design of flood seal and recent testing has proved that with a little tweaking, we have yet another world class product. I look forward to StormMeister and Lancaster University working together on a whole range of new innovations, patents and products.”

Dr Allan Rennie, Senior Lecturer in Manufacturing Engineering and Head of the Lancaster Product Development Unit at Lancaster University, said: “The Stratasys J750 is a multi-colour, multi-material additive manufacturing technology that significantly enhances our ability to develop new products with in-built functionality that would have previously been impossible.

“This is a game-changing technology and a real coup for Lancaster University to have such capability within our portfolio of facilities – we encourage businesses and other organisations to work with us to see how we can enhance their existing product development processes.”

The Stratasys J750 was part-funded by the Growth Deal Skills Capital Fund through the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP), as well as the project partners – Lancaster University and BAE Systems – for the ‘Advanced Manufacturing Capital for Skills Development & Employer Engagement’ Project (ACaDEmE).

Dr Michele Lawty-Jones, Director of the Lancashire Skills Hub, said: “The LEP’s investment in new technology like the Stratasys printer at Lancaster University is a great example of how Growth Deal funding is aligned to our wider growth strategy for the county. Advanced manufacturing is at the heart of Lancashire’s economy, and we are continually seeking opportunities where we can add value to both students and local businesses by providing facilities and equipment which drive innovation.

“The fact that StormMesiter has been utilising the additive manufacturing resources, and the expertise in engineering, at the University demonstrates this approach in action, and we would encourage all companies in Lancashire to work with local colleges and universities to enhance their products, services and skills.”

In addition to the Stratasys equipment at Lancaster, the LEP’s Growth Deal fund is supporting the University’s Health Innovation Campus which will spearhead advances in technologies and products to improve health and healthcare globally.

Through the Growth Deal fund, the LEP has also invested substantially in other projects and programmes linked to advanced manufacturing and hi-tech engineering. This includes UCLan’s Engineering Innovation Centre, Edge Hill University’s Innovation Technology Hub, Runshaw College’s Engineering and Science centre, Nelson & Colne College’s Advanced Engineering & Manufacturing Innovation Centre and Blackpool & Fylde College’s Maritime Engineering Facility.

Businesses interested in exploring opportunities to work with the Engineering Department or access the additive manufacturing facilities should contact Mr Chris Lambert (c.g.lambert@lancaster.ac.uk / 01524 594383) or Dr Allan Rennie (a.rennie@lancaster.ac.uk / 01524 594384).