3D printing project could be used to study COVID-19

New technology being developed by a University of Canterbury mechanical engineer could be used to study the effects of Covid-19 and screen potential cures.

Senior mechanical engineering lecturer Dr Yilei Zhang is working on a prototype of a 3D printer that uses hybrid laser beams to speed up production and retaining accuracy.

He says the technology could be used to quickly print in-vitro organ models to study the virus’ effects, or to screen drugs that might potentially cure it.

“We’ve developed a novel hybrid, high-speed 3D printer based on laser beam shaping technology, which allows us to print large, complex structures faster than traditional 3D printers. This technology has broad applications in high-speed 3D printing of engineering and biological products.

“In the biomedical field it could be used to make not only scaffolds for tissue engineering, but also in-vitro organs with cells embedded inside for implantation.”

The technology would also allow for mass production of highly complex and accurate items, Dr Zhang says.

“3D printing is normally quite slow because it involves adding a thin layer of materials at each step, which enhances accuracy but reduces productivity. By using hybrid laser beams we can print fast without compromising on quality.”

Additive manufacturing is recognised as one of the key elements of future manufacturing and is already used in the aerospace, food, agriculture and marine industries.

Dr Zhang expects to have a working prototype for the printer ready in six months and has sponsorship from Auckland-based technology incubator Astrolab.

His project is also a UC Innovation Jumpstart 2019 winner, which means he receives $20,000 to help with experimentation and development.