The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the UK Government's leading funding agency for research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, has awarded a new research grant of just under £2m to a major university/industry collaboration in the inkjet sector.
This EPSRC funding, combined with the match-funds from leading inkjet companies, is enabling an unprecedented level of university/industry collaboration for the UK's valuable inkjet industry. All the partners are very excited by the tremendous opportunities for serious scientific development and related commercial applications that this consortium promises to deliver. The expected outputs should revolutionise the inkjet sector for the UK and beyond.Professor Ian Hutchings
The initiative's industry partners - Domino UK Ltd, Sericol Group Ltd, Linx Printing Technologies plc, Fujifilm Electronic Imaging Ltd, Xaar plc, Cambridge Display Technology Ltd (CDT), Inca Digital Printers Ltd, Plastic Logic Ltd and Sun Chemical Ltd - have provided a further £1m of match-funding. The university partners are the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, Leeds, Manchester and Aberystwyth, with the University of Cambridge being the administrator of the funds.
This significant collaboration is the first of its kind for the world-leading inkjet industry in the UK and reflects the partners' commitment to advancing science and technology developments relevant to their sector. The combined funding of approximately £3m will support a five-year programme of research and development that will be co-ordinated by the University of Cambridge and be focused on a dedicated laboratory based at Cambridge's Institute for Manufacturing, a part of the Department of Engineering. The Chemical Engineering and Maths Departments at Cambridge are also involved in the consortium.
The industry partners will work closely with the universities involved to try to develop commercially the scientific possibilities that emerge from the research. Currently the world market for industrial printing includes packages, cartons, wallpapers, textiles and laminates and is valued in excess of £100bn. It is anticipated that new applications for the production of polymer-based TV displays and electronics products such as printed integrated circuits will be developed in addition to the ongoing development of the traditional graphical applications for the inkjet industry. The potential market size in the display area alone is of order $30bn and the possibilities for low-cost plastic circuits, manufactured using inkjet, may be greater still.
The emerging science behind these developments in the industry is the Drop on Demand (DoD) technology used in office printing, known as 'digital' printing, which greatly improves the quality obtainable. It is expected to replace traditional Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) printing processes in many industrial applications. However, the higher accuracy and higher speeds required in the new applications of inkjet make demands beyond the current available technologies. In modern inkjet printing, jets and droplets are formed at extremely high speeds. The fluids used contain significant amounts of polymer and/or particulates and so have particularly complex rheological properties. The combination of these two things leads to complex and inadequately explained behaviour. The properties and behaviour of complex fluids at the very high shear rates involved in inkjet printing are currently poorly understood. An important aspect of the research will involve characterising and modelling these fluids. The small size of inkjet printhead components and the very tight tolerances required also pose problems of measurement.
New scientific understanding is required to support these emerging applications, which none of the consortium companies are able to develop on their own. Mutual links between the world-leading inkjet community in the UK, which originated in the Cambridge area, the University of Cambridge and the other universities working in the field, triggered an awareness of the need to pool resources to enable a serious level of scientific activity in this field.
Contact: Prof Ian Hutchings, GKN Professor of Manufacturing Engineering, The Institute for Manufacturing, Department of Engineering.