During summer 2018, between my second and third year of my undergraduate degree, I took part in a summer vacation bursary scheme. It was titled “Modelling flow in 3D Printing”, which formed part of a Royal commission for the Exhibition of 1851 Research Fellowship entitled “Semi-crystalline materials in Additive Manufacturing” lead by the main supervisor of this project, Claire McIlroy.

Plastic-based 3D printing has enormous potential to revolutionise manufacturing processes, yet a fundamental understanding of how printing parameters interact with material properties is lacking. The most common method for printing plastics (polymers) is known as fused filament fabrication; this technique involves heating-up and melting a thermoplastic, followed by layer-by-layer extrusion (additive manufacturing) to build a 3D object. This method is cheap and easy to setup, but generally relies on ‘rules-of-thumb’, rather than knowledge of the material micro-structure, to ensure print quality.

The first step to understanding these materials in additive manufacturing is understanding how the nozzle deforms the polymer during flow, as addressed in this summer project.

This project used techniques such as finite differences on 1st- and 2nd- order derivatives, discretising a PDE into a system of ODEs and solving numerically using a Runge-Kutta O4 method, and other general research skills such as searching through relevant journals, using LaTeX, and learning to be resilient when struggling to fix issues that arise.