Cambridge leads inkjet consortium

A consortium led by Cambridge University has been awarded a multi-million pound grant to investigate how inkjet print technology could revolutionise manufacturing processes.

The group, headed by Prof Ian Hutchings of the Institute for Manufacturing (IfM), has been awarded £5m by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The consortium comprises collaborators from two other Cambridge departments, the Universities of Durham and Leeds, and a group of nine companies that includes the major UK players in the inkjet sector.

The £5m award, with additional funding from industry, will support a five-year programme of research to study the formulation, jetting and deposition of specialist printing fluids, and develop an overall process model. This work will improve the robustness of industrial inkjet printing and help companies develop new applications for the technology.

What makes inkjet so fascinating is that the same technology that is used for printing pictures and text can also be used to manufacture high-value, high-precision products such as flat-panel displays, printed electronics and photovoltaic cells for power generation.

But as Prof Hutchings, head of the IfM’s Production Processes Group, explained, these exciting possibilities may only be fully realised if researchers have a better understanding of the science underlying the formation and behaviour of very small liquid drops at very short timescales, and to widen the range of materials that can be manipulated in this way.

Cambridge was the home to some of the earliest work on ink-jet printing at Cambridge Consultants in the 1970s, and the East of England now contains a cluster of world-class companies exploiting this technology. The city also houses the Ink-jet Research Centre, which was set up in 2005 within the IfM to study the generic scientific problems of inkjet printing.