As additive manufacturing conjures up ever more complex shapes, the race is on to develop technologies that can make sure they’re safe enough for spaceships, planes and people
A piece of metal rises layer by layer in a bewitching pattern of tiny glowing and sparking shapes, each a few millimetres across. Peering through the glass at the process known as ‘selective laser melting’ is mesmerising, like watching fireworks in miniature.
All around this lab at the University of Nottingham are other, equally fascinating, large machines for creating metals and plastics that are helping researchers make additive manufacturing better.
Some are working on multi-material printing, while in the next room one scientist is developing techniques for printed foodstuffs. The university recently announced a new technique for embedding electronic circuits in printed items. And behind a door that is tantalisingly off limits, a panel on the wall notes that the oxygen level is being monitored.
Chris Tuck grins. “I can’t take you in there,” he says. Tuck, who has short dark hair and thick-rimmed glasses, is the deputy director of Nottingham’s EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Additive Manufacturing.
The lab is quieter than usual, with rolls of bubble wrap and packing tape scattered around. Soon after our visit, they’re moving into a brand-new, bigger building. Through another door, there’s a room where scientists are working on the nanoscale – but, make no mistake, additive manufacturing is a big deal.
In his office, off a long corridor (one of the longest in Europe, apparently), Tuck reels off an impressive list of companies that are working with the centre and its collaborators on research: GSK, BMW,…