After four years of successful innovation on next-generation additive manufacturing equipment for 3D printing, AMSYSTEMS Center is entering a new phase. Having begun life as an initiative of TU/e High Tech Systems Center and TNO, the four market segments – Industrial Additive Manufacturing, Structural Electronics, Food and Pharma – have gone through interesting technological developments. As a result of these developments and in view of the future focus and market opportunities these segments are being split across three ventures. TU/e Professor and member of the Digital Food Processing Intitiave (DFPI) Patrick Anderson and AMSYSTEMS B.V. co-founder Roeland Brugman outline the focus of these new developments.
Two sides of research
A core goal of AMSYSTEMS Center was to bridge the gap between fundamental and applied research – areas represented, to a degree, by Patrick and Roeland respectively. “Basically, I’m a mechanical engineer, so I’m motivated by technology,” begins Roeland. “My personal drive is to bring smart ideas to commercial application. In 2000, I joined TNO, where I turned research group into an commercial supplier of industrial technologies (SME CelSian Glass & Solar B.V.) in 2012. While looking for a new challenge in 2018, I was hired by TNO to do business development for AMSYSTEMS Center.”
“I’m really on the fundamental side of things,” says Patrick, who serves as both a professor in the structure and rheology of complex fluids and the chair of the Polymer Technology group at TU/e. “We want to link the microstructure and rheology of materials to their structural properties. At first, AMSYSTEMS Center was strongly connected to HTSC and to developing new equipment and devices. But you need to look at which materials you will use in these devices and take their behaviors into account. A high-volume polymer like a polyethylene is completely different to a material with very specific properties.”
A LIVING PRODUCT
As early as 2018, this need to create a greater link between materials and equipment led to the first step in AMSYSTEMS Center’s evolution: the creation of the Digital Food Processing Initiative (DFPI) by TNO, TU/e HTSC and Wageningen University & Research. With a focus on propositions like Sustainable Food Solutions and Food Experience, this will now take over and accelerate AMSYSTEMS Center’s Food and Pharma work.
“One of the roles I had in the AMSYSTEMS Center steering committee was a linking pin between the hardcore material research and HTSC developments,” explains Patrick. “I’m proud that we’ve been able to develop equipment that allows plug-and-play processing for better insights into this relationship, and we’ve made a number of big steps for the next generation of printers. The DFPI gives us the momentum to take this further.”
The search for new battlefields
In outlining what each partner contributes, he returns to the complexity of the materials – in this case, breakfast, lunch or dinner. “Biological materials show a large variability in composition and physical properties. If you process milk during the day, you’ll see different behavior than at night. How can we develop equipment that takes this into account? The DFPI is much broader than HTSC and involves all kinds of expertise at TU/e. We also have Wageningen, which has a lot of experience with food science and biological materials. Then there’s TNO, which connects this to society and industry. This is an important combination of knowledge on food, nutrition and high-tech systems.”
One such example is the concept of a 3D printer that creates personalized nutrition bars using health data from sensors. It seems like science fiction, but Patrick expects this to one day be available at the average gym. “We currently have medicines that are not optimized for the elderly versus e.g. young children,” adds Roeland. “Common sense says that personalization should be preferred, but there’s a risk to your development if you don’t address people, products and production processes. At AMSYSTEMS B.V., we therefore want to quickly integrate equipment builders, offering industrial end-users a full proposition that includes a working machine. Whenever existing commercial entities cannot provide solutions, we step in.”
Similar name, updated focus
Having successfully developed solutions to speed up the 3D printing process, the goal for Industrial Additive Manufacturing is now a shift from prototyping to mass customization through the new technology developer and supplier start-up AMSYSTEMS B.V.
Whereas current machines generally run slow product-building processes, productivity could be increased by accelerating individual process steps like selective polymerization and individual layer deposition. Such disruptive inventions have been patented by TNO over the last 15 years, but the low Technological Readiness Levels prevented them from reaching the market. The activities of AMSYSTEMS B.V. are thus twofold, as Roeland explains.
“On one hand, we do contract development for OEMs and industrial users to generate AM solutions including new 3D printing processes and dedicated production equipment. . On the other hand, we position ourselves as the supplier of next-generation additive manufacturing technologies by industrializing TNO’s IP and patents via sellable products. People look to the Brainport region when they need a consortium for development, proof-of-concepts and processing all the way up to the integration and supply of one-off machines or series. We provide that.”
The importance of the academic world is not forgotten. “We have a high number of PhDs and whenever we receive an inquiry for which we have a connection to the university, it’s very easy to incorporate them,” Roeland continues. “This also helps people at the university to avoid working too long on things that will never reach the market. At every step, we want to have a mechanism that checks whether we should go further. I hear from Patrick all kinds of new ideas, infrastructure and testing facilities. We can hook these up to industry via PhDs or projects, which is the best way to speed up the required innovation.”
1 + 1 = 3
Last but not least, AMSYSTEMS Center’s Structural Electronics has found a new home in Holst Centre, a TNO entity with a prominent position in 2D and 2.5D printed electronics. Roeland: “The flywheel of innovation needs to have fingers in every TRL level, and Structural Electronics is still at the lower end. It’s not surprising: industrial additive manufacturing is a rather ‘young’ market, so the global market is driven by technological innovations.
When it comes to raising these TRL levels, Patrick is keen to point out the role of students. “One of the nice things about master’s students is that they have limited knowledge but are generally very enthusiastic and creative – especially when they see a need in society. In the field of polymers and plastics, for example, people are very worried about waste. If you task students with something like creating a material that dissolves in nature without side-effects, they’re very keen to get their hands dirty. Sometimes, they surprise you with a solution.”
“We have the luxury of giving them the opportunity to innovate,” agrees Roeland. “In Brabant, our performance in the world of high-tech equipment plays a role as well. I had my first additive manufacturing exhibition last year in Germany. The hall was full of the biggest industrial printers that were commercially available. We had a very small printer on a desktop, but I was surprised that everybody was watching our set-up. It had many high-tech features which are already common for Brainport engineers but which are high-level for general OEMs. In that sense, you could say we’re spoilt in this region. Through cooperation, we can make one and one equal three.”
For more information about DFPI, please contact Patrick Anderson.
For more information about AMSYSTEMS BV, please contact Roeland Brugman.