1. Today Dr Simon Leigh from Warwick University visited 3D Systems in Clevedon and visited staff in Bristol University, The University of the West of England as well as staff and students at Clevedon School at the invitation of Iain Major.

    Simon got to see what goes on in the BIG (Bristol Interaction and Graphics) research lab under the direction of Professor Mike Fraser at Bristol University. Their work focuses on ground-breaking interactive display systems such as falling water droplets onto which lasers are shone to display messages with which the
    viewer can interact. He then visited the Fine Print Research Centre at UWE's Bower Ashton campus where he met Professor Stephen Hoskins, Dr Peter Walters and David Huson and saw examples of their work on printing with food substances such as icing sugar and chocolate as well as ceramics - both artistic and commercial.

    The visits were aimed to forge links between different academic teams working in similar fields with the potential to move 3D printing research in the UK forward in exciting new directions. All parties were interested to learn more about what the others are currently working on and we hope that there will be some innovative collaboration going forward.

    The day was rounded off with Simon paying a visit to Clevedon School where Dave White's sixth form students listened to a presentation about the development of Simon's conductive material Carbomorph which can be printed on a 3D printer. The tables were then turned and Simon heard from the students their ideas about how the novel material could be used in future products such as: car tyres which would be able to monitor the road conditions on which they are being used; wine glasses which signal when they are empty and need refilling by changing colour and doors which open at a speed which ensures that they open at the right time for the person approach no matter what speed they approach at.

  2. Yesterday The University of the West of England became the first academic library in the UK to offer 3D printing to its students thanks to the donation of a 3DTouch from 3D Systems. The printer is in the main foyer and available for all students to use.

    Iain Major made the hand-over to Drew Batchelor (Programme Leader & Senior Lecturer in Creative Product Design) and Jon Hallet (Library IT Manager) at a ceremony attended by dozens of interested students who had heard about the donation in advance and who came along to find out more about how to get involved. 

    Drew welcomed the gift saying that it would be fascinating to see what design students from different disciplines would choose to print out. Iain outlined some of the current developments in the world of 3D printing and congratulated UWE on having such a forward-looking library service. He went on to thank all who had turned out to find out more about the donation and spent time discussing how the machine works with interested individual members of staff and students. Within half an hour of the presentation ceremony the 3DTouch was already in use by students who had arrived with their file ready to print.

  3. On Monday 14 January Iain Major was at the Royal Academy of Engineering presenting to the seminar on "What counts as deep employer engagement in 14-19 technical education?". His presentation was entitled "Engaging with UTCs an employer's perspective" and focused on the work that 3D Systems are doing with the new Bristol Technology and Engineering Academy but also covered work within the primary, secondary and tertiary education sectors.

    Iain gave his personal insight into the 3D printing revolution and triggered questions from the floor about what students should be covering in lessons about 3D printing; especially how to frame what the future may hold with such a rapidly changing and disruptive technology.

    The day saw presentations from Professor Matthew Harrison (Director of Engineering & Education at the Royal Academy of Engineering) as well as representatives from Airbus, Siemens, Toyota and several UTCs and was the second in a series of 3 seminars looking into the role of the UTC. University Technical Colleges are new form of college for students aged between 14 and 19 in the UK which specialises in technical studies and is sponsored by a university.

    3D Systems is represented by Iain on the BTE employer forum which meets to provide focus for the ethos and curriculum of this new UTC which is due to open its doors in September.
  4. Recently I had the opportunity to spend a week training students at the Instituto Volterra Elia in Ancona, Italy at the invitation of Meccano Spa. The students had spent time before I visited learning how to produce CAD models using Solid Works and were set a challenge to produce parts to hold a video camera onto a post.

    We quickly set to work and by the end of the first session the students proved that they were able to get the machine set up ready to print. We then rapidly moved through the basics of processing .stl files using Axon and set to printing some of their parts.

    The students then gained an appreciation of learning the tolerances of the machine. They had produced parts which should have meshed if they were produced perfectly but when printed did not mesh. The nature of 3D printing is that you can easily hone your design to improve your print. This was a great learning point and we moved into the redesign stage.

    Once we had mastered simple parts the students started to redesign some more complex parts to allow them to be printed without the need for support material (turning parts around, moving subsections such that they sit level with the bed rather than in mid-air, etc.). We also looked into the processes involved in producing more complex designs printing in multiple materials or multiple colours.

    At the end of the week I was told by my dedicated translator Camillo that they had really enjoyed their time on the course and it was very clear from their . Indeed I was not allowed to go until I had personally checked over print files which were being prepared as I packed away my tools!

    Even more pleasingly I was busy chatting with one of the students on the course while waiting for my plane home about his plans for mounting his phone onto his helmet so he can video while he rides his motorbike and within a few days of my return I am pleased to say he managed to achieve his ambition.

    Iain Major

  5. Researchers within the School of Engineering are developing new materials which could one day allow people to print out custom-designed personal electronics such as games controllers which perfectly fit their hand shape.

    The research team, led by Dr Simon Leigh, have created a simple and inexpensive conductive plastic composite that can be used to produce electronic devices using the latest generation of low-cost 3D printers designed for use by hobbyists and even in the home. The material, nicknamed 'carbomorph', enables users to lay down electronic tracks and sensors as part of a 3D printed structure – allowing the printer to create touch-sensitive areas for example, which can then be connected to a simple electronic circuit board. So far the team has used the material to print objects with embedded flex sensors or with touch-sensitive buttons such as computer game controllers or a mug which can tell how full it is.

    The next step is to work on printing much 
    more complex structures and electronic components including the wires and cables required to connect the devices to computers. Simon said: "It's always great seeing the complex and intricate models of devices such as mobile phones or television remote controls that can be produced with 3D printing, but that's it, they are invariably models that don't really function. We set about trying to find a way in which we could actually print out a functioning electronic device from a 3D printer. In the long term, this technology could revolutionalise the way we produce the world around us, making products such as personal electronics a lot more individualised and unique and in the process reducing electronic waste.

    Designers could also use it to understand better how people tactilely interact with products by monitoring sensors embedded into objects. However, in the short term I can see this technology having a major impact in the educational sector for example, allowing the next generation of young engineers to get hands-on experience of using advanced manufacturing technology to design fairly high-tech devices and products right there in the classroom. The printed sensors can be monitored using existing open-source electronics and freely available programming libraries. A major advantage of using 3D printing is that sockets for connection to equipment such as interface electronics can be printed out instead of connected using conductive glues or paints.”
    Simon Leigh used the Bits from Bytes machine to achieve his project: "Bits from Bytes' machines have been great to use for our research, they've coped brilliantly with us throwing all sorts of weird and wonderful materials at them"

    This research is detailed in the study, A simple, low-cost conductive composite material for 3D printing of electronic sensors, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.
    The research was funded by the EPSRC project: Novel 3D Printing Technologies for Maximising Industrial Impact (Subproject # 30821) and by the EPSRC UK Research Centre In Nondestructive Evaluation.
    More details here: http://www.3ders.org/articles/20121122-printing-electronic-sensors-using-low-cost-3d-printers.html