AM ResearchDfAM

Researchers look to the human fetus for DfAM inspiration

University of Birmingham team proposes 'Temporal Design' approach

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For those in the additive manufacturing industry, it is a well known fact that AM requires different design principles than subtractive manufacturing techniques. Today, many resources in the industry (as well as at a research level) are dedicated to advancing Design for Additive Manufacturing (DfAM), which leverages the design freedom of AM to create parts with new functions and innovative geometries.

Within the sphere of DfAM, a new design concept has come out of the University of Birmingham in the UK which draws inspiration from human biology. The research, recently published in The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology, was led by an interdisciplinary team from the university’s School of Engineering and Centre for Human Reproductive Science.

In their work, the team has studied how the growth of humans in the womb can provide inspiration for designing parts that “grow” in 3D printers. Specifically, the work looks at how the growth processes of the fetus change over the course of a pregnancy. Applied to AM, the researchers believe a similar “temporal design” approach could be used, which would bring time into the design equation.

Human fetus DfAM approach

“While using biological inspiration in engineering design is commonplace, studying the growth of humans and translating this to advanced manufacturing systems offers a whole new perspective,” explained Dr. Jackson Kirkman-Brown, Reader in Human Reproductive Biology and co-author on the paper. “The way in which biological systems develop from incrementally adding cells to form tissues and organs, which both grow and modulate each other to function in synergy, is the epitome of sophisticated AM.”

The still in-development temporal design approach conceived of by the research team has the potential to create new opportunities in AM in terms of new types of parts and materials.

Dr. Lauren Thomas-Seale, lecturer in Engineering Design and Principle Investigator of the project, said: “Although we refer to it as additive manufacturing, traditionally engineers learn to design parts based on a long history of subtractive manufacturing. This leads to well-acknowledged constraints in design creativity. Additive manufacturing has to break out of this inertia if it is to reach its full potential in both design and as a fundamental technique.

“Looking towards radically different avenues for inspiration, is required not only to create real change in the way we approach design but also represents a more holistic approach, which is important to avoid the fragmented development of the technique that ultimately mean new products face a much more difficult and costly route towards commercialisation.”

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Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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