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The Sustainable Printing Applied Research Knowledge laboratory - SPARKlab - focuses on the development of novel processing techniques for materials synthesis, printing and characterisation of functional nanomaterials and devices with applications in areas such as sensing, energy harvesting and environmental monitoring.

SPARKlab comprises a suite of equipment giving a concept-to-device capability for production of functional ceramic powders, ink formulation and printing. The emphasis of the work in the lab is on new materials and manufacturing technologies that could be used to create interactive devices that contain less harmful and sustainable materials with a secure supply.

Ceramic and metal structures are commonly manufactured using high temperatures and wasteful cutting operations. SPARKlab’s approach is to use low temperature additive techniques to build intricate structures which are not attainable using other methods. SPARKlab specialises in:

  • Formulation, printing and processing of advanced functional materials and devices
  • Electrical characterisation, including resistance, impedance, capacitance, voltage and current
  • Physical characterisation including microstructural analysis,  mechanical testing and device performance

The laboratory covers concept-to-device across three connected areas:

Formulation – SPARKlab pioneers the synthesis of metallic and ceramic nanomaterials, and their subsequent formulation into inks, to allow the creation of functional devices through printing and additive manufacture. Capabilities include:

  • Nanomaterial synthesis techniques including molten salt, sol gel, precipitation, spray pyrolysis
  • Blending and milling of inks, with tailoring viscosities, suitable for printing methods from spray coating through to screen printing.
  • Ink and print characterisation

Printing – Combining printing and additive manufacturing techniques to create bespoke, flexible, low-waste, sustainable capabilities distinct from traditional top-down manufacturing processes such as machining and etching. SPARKlab supports printing and additive manufacturing of metallic and ceramic structures across a range of geometries and sizes:

  • < 100µm – combined printing and innovative laser processing
  • >100µm – ink jet printing, micromoulding and screen printing
  • Blanket coverage – spray coating, spin coating, dip coating

Processing – Printed films and structures require consolidation through thermal processing. SPARKlab utilises a range of innovative ink formulations and processing techniques to process metallic and ceramic films at substantially lower temperature than traditional thermal processes:

  • Scanning laser processing
  • Cold sintering
  • Thermal flash processing
  • In situ chemical synthesis

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