Stratasys, a global provider of 3D printing and additive manufacturing solutions, has announced the unveiling of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems at the University of Leeds. The centre has the most advanced suite of robotic building equipment in the UK, including the world's largest multi-material 3D printer, the Objet1000 from Stratasys, as well as the Objet500 Connex3 colour, multi-material 3D printer.
The new government-backed centre totalling £4.3m in investment, is set to put Leeds at the forefront of UK robot design and construction. The facility is being funded as a resource not only for researchers, but also for local industry, and forging partnerships with companies interested in developing state-of-the-art robotics a key objective.
"Robotics has been identified by the Government as one of the areas where the UK can develop a technological edge, therefore it's our vision to build a world-leading centre for robotics and autonomous systems," said Dr Robert Richardson, director of the facility. "We looked at the most exciting robots being developed across the world and asked ourselves what kit we'd need to build something even better. With our 3D printing technology, we'll be able to make robots that are smaller, more intricate, more flexible and more integrated than ever before," added Dr Richardson. "Leeds already has a great track record in robotics for surgical applications, patient rehabilitation, prosthetics, and exploration, but the new facility will revolutionise our ability to turn new concepts into reality."
In a UK first, the lab features the world's largest multi-material 3D printer, the Objet1000, capable of 3D printing huge 1:1 scale parts combining rigid and soft materials, all in a single build. The technology will also enable its users to mix two base materials on-the-fly to create over a hundred new digital materials, making robot design and production more versatile than ever before.
"If you think about it, combining hard and soft materials is critical to some of the most effective physical systems we know," continued Dr Richardson. "The human body, for instance, has soft tissues, flexible cartilages, elastic tendons and rigid bones all working closely together. As an example, we recently developed a life-size reproduction of a human colon that includes compliant materials and was created from reconstructed MRI data using our Objet1000. We are currently developing techniques to 3D print more accurate tissue phantoms to facilitate the evaluation of surgical devices and robots."
The lab is also equipped with a 3D visualisation studio that allows robot builders to inspect digital models of robot designs in fine detail prior to being 3D printed. Completing the 3D printer line-up is Stratasys' Objet500 Connex3 colour, multi-material 3D printer. Its unique triple-jetting technology will be used to produce complex robotic parts with virtually unlimited combinations of rigid, flexible, transparent and colour materials - all in a single print run, requiring no assembly.
"The National Facility for Innovative Robotics is a fantastic example of how the UK continues to invest significantly in innovation and technology," said Andy Middleton, Stratasys' senior vice president and general manager EMEA. "It is always refreshing to see researchers push the boundaries of their fields using our most advanced 3D printing technology, in this case the next generation of robotics. However, sharing these design and production capabilities with local businesses will take innovation beyond the lab and into UK manufacturers, enabling them to create their own factories of the future."