Focus on research: Dr Matthias Kremer, I-Form
Dr Mathias Kremer is a postdoctoral research fellow at I-Form, the Science Foundation Ireland centre for advanced manufacturing. In this interview he talks about new materials in additive manufacturing and why he won’t be giving up cooking in favour of 3D printed food just yet.
Your academic career started in Germany. What attracted you to Ireland?
After completing my PhD in a non-university research institute working closely with industry, I wanted to return to the university environment of more fundamental research. By the time I was looking for positions Prof Nicolosi in Trinity College was just awarded her ERC Consolidator Grant and was looking for an engineer with knowledge in both 3D printing and inkjet printing of nanomaterials – a perfect match.
Coincidentally, I had gone to Ireland for holidays just the year before, stayed in Trinity and had a great time. This experience certainly made the decision easier.
How important is the discovery of new materials to additive manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing is an extremely broad field covering many different technologies which allow fabrication of very complex structures in all kinds of materials – plastics, metals, ceramics, composites.
The ongoing improvements of these techniques are the reason for ‘additive’ becoming more ubiquitous.
Employing newly discovered materials herein opens a whole new chapter in which we will see an even broader spectrum of applications realised by additively-made parts and devices.
Your work looks at the blending of nanomaterials. Can you go into detail on what this entails?
‘2D nanomaterials’ is a collective term for ultra-thin and flexible sheets that can be made from virtually any bulk material. The thickness of one of these sheets would compare to the width of a human hair like the width of a single blade of grass to the length of a whole football field. These materials can be tuned to exhibit exceptional physical properties like very high electrical conductivity or high tensile strength by specifically choosing their composition.
My current research focus is on the application of such bespoke materials for new types of batteries that can be produced by additive manufacturing.
I’m working with several different printing processes to develop optimal fabrication conditions right from the start. This approach will enable batteries in arbitrary shapes, following the design of the device they power rather than having a device built around a battery.
Which applications are you most excited about?
Mobile and wearable electronics are already on the rise and have become an everyday add-on to our lives. However, they still greatly suffer from the bulkiness and low capacity of currently available batteries.
We’ve recently started a project where we are working on printing a miniaturised battery directly onto a fabric, to enable wearable devices that look and feel like regular clothes. These could, for example, be medical devices that monitor certain body functions like your cardiac activity over an extended period without constraining your usual way of life in any way.
Another point of course must be electric vehicles. While properties like flexibility aren’t required for this application, the use of novel nanomaterials will enhance the amount of energy that can be stored in a battery dramatically, thus increasing the range of the car.
We’re hearing a lot about 3D-printed food. How close are we to getting 3D printers into the kitchen?
In short term I’d expect them to be mainly employed in professional kitchens for events, producing meals with company logos and the like. A bit further down the road I can imagine consumer devices that are supplied with cartridges containing the raw ingredients to produce meals at the push of the button.
I think I would prefer to cook myself but whether it would be environmentally sustainable is another question.