£1.2m grant to revolutionise product design and manufacturing

Monday, 05 September 2022

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Academics from three UK universities, including Oxford Brookes University, have been awarded £1.2million for a research project which will develop new additive manufacturing aluminium alloys which will revolutionise how products are designed and manufactured.

The project will run for three years and is funded by UKRI’s (UK Research and Innovation) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is the name given to the industrial process of creating three-dimensional objects by layering materials using computer-aided design. The benefits of AM include the ability to create cost-effective, intricate objects with minimum waste, however the AM industry faces technical challenges related to the quality of the objects produced.

Objects produced through AM can be laden with intrinsic defects. These defects are the result of the types of materials used in AM, as well as what happens to the materials as they go through the AM process.

Currently, the developments of AM are focussed mainly on the printing process, and mitigating the material’s deficiencies by controlling certain aspects of the process. In addition, the majority of the alloys used in AM are originally designed and tailored to suit different manufacturing processes. Consequently, there are a limited number of materials that are designed specifically for manufacturing high-quality AM components.

Addressing the need for bespoke AM materials

“What we are seeking to do with this project, is to develop a new class of AI-based alloys with fine-tuned structures and composition,” says Iakovos Tzanakis, Professor of Engineering Materials at Oxford Brookes University.

“We want to ensure these new, high-quality materials are crack resistant, uniform in structure, have reduced residual stresses and porosity and are optimised for use in additive manufacturing. The new materials will combine the best processing features of existing alloys groups, with lightweight, uniform structure and properties, high rigidity, thermal stability, and designed functionality.”

The research project will also involve academics from Brunel University London and University College London, and is expected to begin in January 2023.