October 31, 2014

Jennifer Lewis breaks new ground in 3D printing and manufacturing

The 3D printing industry is experiencing rapid growth and transformation. What are some of the new applications that you are exploring? 

So we are going beyond plastic, and I think that is a really important thing to highlight. In order to integrate function into these kinds of objects we need to work with functional materials. And so our group has really got a core expertise in designing materials that have both form and function. So they enable 3D printing, but then in addition to that they embed function. Whether it be conductors, whether it be battery materials, whether it be elastomers that can stretch, or whether it be biological materials that can function like living tissue.

What are some of the biggest challenges that you have found trying to translate from academia into industry and commercial applications?

One of the biggest challenges is really thinking about the scalability of what you are doing, taking something from the laboratory scale, which you have the ability to carefully control and be very precise, and thinking about scaling up to a manufacturing level process for the things that we are developing in three dimensional printing. So in addition to the fundamental science in terms of developing new material sets for these functional inks and biological inks, we are also really focusing on throughput. Like, how do we advance the rate at which you can print materials so that you can truly make three-dimensional printing not just a prototyping platform, but a manufacturing platform. We are doing this through the design of muti-nozzle arrays, through designs of multi material deposition stages and being able to integrate function into three-dimensional forms.

How has OTD helped you advance your research?

Since joining Harvard about a year ago, we have worked closely with Harvard's OTD office, in particular, Mick Sawka, who is my technology manager, and the Director of OTD, Isaac Kohlberg. The two of them have been instrumental in helping us file new patents, identify new opportunities, and work closely with companies who have approached our laboratory and approached our group to try to put in research agreements and things like that. So every step of the way, they've been an equal partner about translating our technology into the commercial sector.

Since joining Harvard about a year ago, we have worked closely with Harvard's OTD office, in particular, Mick Sawka, who is my technology manager, and the Director of OTD, Isaac Kohlberg... Every step of the way, they've been an equal partner about translating our technology into the commercial sector.

How are you planning to commercialize you technology?

We are very interested in building on our core expertise, our science, and our technology in three dimensional printing and creating this commercial entity (which we're calling Voxel8) which will be able to translate the innovations that we are doing in my research lab and take that out into the commercial sector. Voxel8 is going to focus on three-dimensional printing of functional materials of the like that I had mentioned earlier. Batteries, stretchable sensors, and three-dimensional components with embedded electronics.

How has your work benefitted from being awarded a PSE Accelerator?

Our group has core expertise in designing new materials and three dimensional printing platforms, but one of the real missing pieces in our research is the ability to integrate the software needed to be able to do multi material printing, multi types of print heads, and so through Harvard OTD's Physical Science and Engineering Accelerator program, we've been able to get new resources into the group that will allow us to hire a software engineer to work full time in our laboratory to help really take this to the next level and to transform our three dimensional printing platform into a true multi-functional, multi-materials platform for manufacturing.

Through Harvard OTD's Physical Science and Engineering Accelerator program, we've been able to get new resources into the group that will allow us to help really take this to the next level and to transform our three dimensional printing platform into a true multi-functional, multi-materials platform for manufacturing.

3D printing is still in many ways a emerging and growing technology. 50 years from now, what will 3D printing mean to the world? 

The way I look at it, even ten years from now, three-dimensional printing is going to be ubiquitous. It is going to start penetrating from prototyping into manufacturing and the ability to have this customization and have this complexity for free is going to be highly disruptive. The idea of being able to three dimensional printing is also the idea that you can do distributed manufacturing, that rather than shipping components, you are going to be shipping CAD files and then you're going to have local centers of manufacturing excellence, where these CAD files are just ported and then directly products come out. So perhaps you can imagine right now we have FedEx shipping things everywhere wonder if all we had was a distribution center where the files were being digitally shipped and the components were being printed locally.

 

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