UCD spin-out leading the charge in 3D printing technology – The Irish Times
3D printing can do for small runs and customised products what mass production has been doing for large runs of standardised items for generations but, up to now, a technical hitch has been hampering its rollout on a universal scale. Put simply, 3D parts are not as strong as conventionally moulded ones.
This is this problem that UCD spin-out Infraprint has addressed and solved with its Traam (thermal radiation assisted additive manufacturing) technology which can print parts with almost twice the strength of existing 3D systems.
“This technology is set to fundamentally disrupt the world of manufacturing and the world is adopting 3D printing technology at a staggering rate,” says Infraprint cofounder Dr Andrew Dickson. “A record two million 3D printing machines were shipped worldwide in 2021 but, despite this major growth, there are still big engineering challenges related to strength.
“What this means in practice is that these parts are more likely to fail in service and this has relegated their use to non-critical areas. With our system it is possible to use any thermoplastic material to print complex parts with the strength to get the job done, thereby allowing companies to manufacture lightweight, customised, high-strength parts in both a cost-effective and time-efficient way.”
Dickson points out that existing industrial 3D printing systems are very expensive, which limits their use to high-value products. By contrast, Infraprint’s technology will kick in at the much lower price point of between €30,000 and €40,000 per unit, depending on the specification, while its upkeep is also lower, it is more energy efficient and it is desktop sized unlike existing 3D printers which are large and need a lot of space.
“Through our research work with different companies in different industries over many years, we knew that the desire was the same: to transition from traditional manufacturing to 3D or additive manufacturing to reduce materials waste, speed up production and reduce dependence on complex supply chains because 3D makes local production feasible,” Dickson says. “But because current 3D systems for polymers produce parts with inferior mechanical properties to injection moulding and milling, this has made it difficult for companies to transition successfully.
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“To solve the problem we combined the materials knowledge of our founding team which includes Prof Denis Dowling, director of the Euro 1-Form Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, to develop new IP and create a go-to platform for companies to have their products produced with additive manufacturing for once-off items or for batches with similar strength to that of the incumbent technologies.”
Infraprint launched its first trial projects with a number of potential customers in February and it is currently producing components from its base at Nova UCD. For now, the company will provide printing as a service but the longer-term plan is to run hardware sales and service printing side-by-side.
Infraprint’s early customers include aerospace suppliers, space component manufacturers and the energy sector. However, the technology also has applications in the medical device manufacturing and pharmaceutical sectors and in an unexpected niche – therapeutic devices for elite athletes.
Investment in the start-up over the last two years has been roughly €500,000 between research funding and commercialisation and pre-seed support from Enterprise Ireland. The company is now investor ready and looking to raise €1.5 million.
Infraprint is in the process of hiring a commercial lead and Dickson, who is currently doubling as CEO and CTO, expects to have five people on board by the end of the summer.
“Our biggest competition is tradition and specifically established manufacturers using the injection moulding and milling technologies that have dominated the market for the past 50 or more years,” he says. “We aim to use the flexibility and efficiency of 3D printing technologies to be more agile and outperform the competition with a focus on low-volume, high-value component manufacturing.”
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