South West students design new type of 3D printer

A team of graduates from the University of Bristol has developed a new type of 3D printer that can be faster and more effective than today’s systems.

3D printers can be slow and inflexible, often using only one type of print head and one type of material. Switching these can be time consuming.

The team developed a multifunctional 3D-printing system called OMNI that can change tools automatically and incorporate other processes to allow for the production of stronger, more functional parts at a greater speed than ordinary printers. It combines 3D printing, milling, component placement and accurate measurement (metrology) on a single programmable platform to make it easy to use.

Building on the prototype

omni-bristol-universityThey have won £20,000 and a place on a scheme for technology startups after pitching their idea against teams from other universities across the UK.  Alex Michaels, Ed Cooper, Glen Cahill and Jack Pearson are using the funding to get OMNI started. The funding comes from JISC, the UK higher education not-for-profit organisation for digital services and solutions.

OMNI began as a final year Engineering Design project, supported by the Manufacturing Technology Centre. The team recognised the educational potential of the prototype, allowing students to produce designs and have hands-on manufacturing experience without technician training.

“We are tremendously excited about the prospect of using the start-up as a platform for engaging school and college students”

“It was fantastic to be able to use our final year project to develop our start-up idea,” said Ed Cooper. “The need to address the commercial opportunities and constraints of a real design problem within the project really helped identify how we could develop routes to market.

“We are tremendously excited about the prospect of using the start-up as a platform for engaging school and college students with engineering and the future of manufacturing technologies.”

A recent study by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) found that 59 per cent of graduates lack the practical skills that are needed by the UK’s manufacturing industry. The team hope to tackle this problem through increased machine access and by providing engaging learning tools. Their long-term ambition is to bring OMNI to schools and universities across the UK to help improve science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) engagement.

You can keep up-to-date with more Bristol University research at University of Bristol News. You can also follow the University of Bristol on Twitter at: @BristolUni

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Personalise your personal computer motherboard with 3D printing

At a tour of of HP’s headquarters a couple of months back one interesting titbit was revealed during a demonstration of the digital printing press; HP had found that customers were willing to pay up to 10 x the price of a regular bar of chocolate simply by adding some customisation to the packaging.  

ASUS, the computing hardware company are trying to tap into the lucrative personalisation market by allowing PC DIYers to 3D print their own embellishments for the Z170 Pro Gaming/Aura motherboard. Certain positions on the board will have dedicated mounts to allow users to 3D print their own logos and nameplates to enhance the aesthetic on the board. 

If you were to draw a Venn diagram of those who like to build their own PCs and those who like to 3D print at home there is inevitably going to be some overlap so an add on as such, albeit purely for novelty over functional value, is a sensible move by ASUS. 

But ASUS aren’t just stopping there, the company has been experimenting for some time in 3D printing functional parts for the motherboards; cable covers and mounts being the most popular use cases. The company’s Edge Up blog showcases a number of functional upgrades that they themselves and fellow ASUS users have implemented using 3D printing. 

Although the bog says it is not getting carried away with the current 3D printing technology and that it “has its limitations”, the use of the technology may act as a sort of gate way to the much popularised spare parts application. It is foreseeable that ASUS could offer a sort of digital spare part library for users to 3D print their own components. Less so for electrical faults on motherboards but certainly for peripherals. 

ASUS gaming keyboards and mouses take some serious beating in the extensive hours gamers dedicate to their favourite titles. If it is a small plastic part, say a keyboard stand leg that breaks the ability to 3D print another part instead of shelling out for a completely new product would no doubt be appealing. 

This decade’s proliferation of desktop 3D printers has consistently sort a killer application, perhaps the more big name brands like ASUS that jump on-board allowing easier integration with their products the more those machines will stop collecting dust in the corner and begin whirring away.