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The University of Southampton

New rapid prototyping facility set to transform engineering at Southampton

Published: 16 August 2012Origin: Engineering

The installation of a new rapid prototyping facility at the University of Southampton is set to transform Engineering design and teaching activities and better equip students for employability in a changing world.

Rapid prototyping, or 3D printing, is regarded as the third industrial revolution in manufacturing. It has been widely accepted as a modern product design, which provides greater design freedom, faster design process, more efficient materials usage and tool-less manufacturing.

3D printing works by converting 3D CAD engineering drawings into solid objects from nylon powder using laser melting. The object is built, layer by layer, with each layer the thickness of a human hair. It allows designers and engineers to create complex and lightweight parts rapidly.

Researchers in Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton have embraced the techniques and have already produced a number of world firsts, including the world's first 3D printed plane and the first fully rapid prototyped air vehicle, the ASTRA (Atmospheric Science through Robotic Aircraft) Atom, to enable low cost observations of the physical parameters of the atmosphere.

The installation of the new £300k state-of-the-art facility, which includes access to expert design staff, a powder-based 3D Systems ZPrinter Z650 machine, a plastic photopolymer-based ZBuilder Ultra along with associated consumables (both supplied by Emco Education Ltd), and two BFB3000 rapid prototyping colour printers housed in a newly refurbished lab, is funded by Engineering and the Environment at the University and Southampton's Student Centredness Fund. The facility will significantly enhance undergraduate engineering degree programmes at all levels and will also further link to wider education and outreach activities across the University.

Using this new facility, students will able to use their theoretical and practical knowledge to create designs, have them printed off within a few hours and walk out of the lab physically holding what they have designed.

Professor Simon Cox, Associate Dean, Enterprise in the University's Faculty of Engineering and the Environment, comments: "The ability to take designs from a CAD workstation to fully functional prototypes is truly inspirational and exciting for students across all of our engineering disciplines and brings together the excellence and passion of University staff to create a distinctive Southampton engineering experience."

Andy Ure, second year MEng Aeronautics and Astronautics student, says:"Having access to the world-class 3D printing facilities has allowed me to develop my design skills in a way that was not possible before. Instead of having my final designs simply shown on a screen, the new printer makes it possible for me to bring them to life. Furthermore, having this opportunity has helped me better understand a quickly developing field that will become essential in the future industrial environment."


Andy Ure in the new facilities

Having access to the world-class 3D printing facilities has allowed me to develop my design skills in a way that was not possible before

Andy Ure - Second year MEng Aeronautics and Astronautics student

Notes for editors

Notes to editors:
The attached image shows Andy Ure, second year MEng Aeronautics and Astronautics student, using the new facilities.

Read more about the University developing the world’s first printed plane here -

Find out more about the ASTRA Atom here –

The University of Southampton is celebrating its 60th anniversary during 2012.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, granted the Royal Charter that enabled the University of Southampton to award its own degrees in the early weeks of her reign in 1952.

In the six decades to follow, Southampton has risen to become one of the leading universities in the UK with a global reputation for innovation through academic excellence and world-leading research.

This year, the University’s reputation continues to grow with the recent awarding of a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in recognition of Southampton’s long-standing expertise in performance sports engineering. To find out more visit

For further information contact:
Glenn Harris, Media Relations, University of Southampton, Tel: 023 8059 3212, email: 

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