Group name Advanced Manufacturing Research and Production Facility (AMRPF)

Group leader Kate Black

Location School of Engineering at The University of Liverpool, UK

Further information


Dr Kate Black.
Dr Kate Black.
Entrance to the Advanced Manufacturing Research and Production Facility.
Entrance to the Advanced Manufacturing Research and Production Facility.
Schematic of the printing process we developed at Liverpool and is now being used in my spinout company Meta Additive.
Schematic of the printing process we developed at Liverpool and is now being used in my spinout company Meta Additive.
One of Meta Additive’s binder jet machines.
One of Meta Additive’s binder jet machines.

Additive manufacturing or 3D printing creates novel structures and devices by depositing material, layer by layer. Kate Black at the University of Liverpool is developing novel technologies and inks for next generation production methods that could be cheaper, less wasteful and greener.

Kate has a PhD in Materials Science from the University of Liverpool and was a Research Associate at the Centre for Advance Photonic and Electronics at the University of Cambridge. Kate joined the University of Liverpool as a lecturer in the Centre for Materials and Structures. She is also a member of the UK’s EPSRC Early Career Forum in Manufacturing Research.

Kate Black talked to Materials Today about her current research and future plans.

How long has your group been running?

I have run an additive manufacturing group since I started as a lecturer at Liverpool in 2013. I took over running the AMRPF in 2019.

How many staff currently makes up your group?

There are around 15 people in the group, made up of PhD students, post docs, and technicians.

What are the major themes of research in your group?

The research activity of our team is based on the development of novel additive manufacturing technologies, with a specific focus on materials for additive manufacturing (AM). We build and develop jetting and laser-based AM machines such as binder jet and laser-powder bed fusion machines. We also develop novel inks and binders that can be processed by inkjet and binder jet printers. Our research is enabling additive manufacturing to provide future production solutions. These solutions will need manufacturing techniques that can produce components that are optimized, multifunctional, low-cost, and sustainable.  The processes that we are developing enable this to become reality.

How and why did you come to work in these areas?

I started my research life working in atomic layer deposition (ALD) and chemical vapor deposition (CVD), where I gained a lot of insight on how to tailor materials at the molecular level to manufacture thin films with a wide variety of properties. I then started to wonder if it were possible to translate these types of chemistries into other technologies, such as AM. It really took off from there. My group started with developing sinter-free inks for 2D applications such as printed electronics and then we combined the organometallic chemistries with nanoparticles and microparticles to enable the printing of 3D structures.  Everyone told me that you couldn’t use these chemistries to print 3D metals and ceramics, but the team and I soon showed that this wasn’t the case. Since then, I have founded a spin-out company in 2019 called Meta Additive Ltd, through which we are exploiting the work we developed in an academic setting to develop a range of bespoke jetting solutions for the mass manufacture of 3D printed metallic and ceramic components.

What facilities and equipment does your lab have?

We have a range of AM facilities, including five laser powder-bed fusion printers, two stereolithography machines, three binder jet systems, two inkjet printers and an e-beam machine. We also have a range of characterization equipment such as rheological equipment and an X-ray microscope.

Do you have a favorite piece of kit or equipment?

Apart from our wonderful binder jet machines, which we developed through Meta Additive, I have to say our Zeiss Versa 620 X-ray microscope. I was very fortunate enough to receive a strategic equipment bid from the EPSRC to purchase the Vera 620. It has opened up a whole new area of research for me and my team, enabling us to characterize novel printed materials and showcase what is possible in AM when you look at tailoring materials at the molecular level rather than just the micro and macro.

What do you think has been your most influential work to date?

Our paper on sinter-free inks was really the catalyst to the rest of my research career and was the beginnings of what is now the successful start-up Meta Additive. Seeing work that started life as an academic piece of work and is now being used in real-life to manufacture components for a whole range of sectors, is incredibly rewarding and satisfying. Seeing your work have an impact and make a difference is what it’s all about.

What is the key to running a successful group?

I think the key to running a successful lab is the people, and creating and maintaining trust, respect, and tolerance. Once you have those three, everything else falls into place. Yes, things need to be organized, structures need to be in place etc., to make things run smoothly but if you first look after the people, then they will make sure the lab and subsequent research is a success.

How do you plan to develop your group in the future?

We would like to grow the team and start to collaborate with a broader mix of researchers not just from the materials or AM areas but also more machine learning and software experts. These are two areas that will be pivotal in printing multifunctional materials such as ours and how we can use them to propel AM to the next level, enabling the printing of future manufacturing solutions.

Key publications

  1. J. W. Roberts, C. J. Sutcliffe, P. L. Green, K. Black. Modelling of metallic particle binders for increased part density in binder jet printed components. Additive Manufacturing, 34 (2020) 101244.
  2. H. Wong, R. Garrard, K. Black, P. Fox, C. Sutcliffe. Material characterization using electronic imaging for Electron Beam Melting process monitoring. Manufacturing Letters, 23 (2020) 44-48.
  3. I. A. Okaro, S. Jayasinghe, C. Sutcliffe, K. Black, P. Paoletti, P.L. Green. Automatic fault detection for laser powder-bed fusion using semi-supervised machine learning. Additive Manufacturing, 27 (2019) 42-53
  4. K. J. Abrams, M. Dapor, N. Stehling, M. Azzolini, S. J. Kyle, J. Schäfer, A. Quade,  F. Mika, S. Kratky, Z. Pokorna, I. Konvalina, D. Mehta, K. Black, C. Rodenburg.  Making Sense of Complex Carbon and Metal/Carbon Systems by Secondary Electron Hyperspectral Imaging. Adv. Sci. 6 (2019) 1900719
  5. J. Turner, H. C. Aspinall, S. Rushworth, K. Black. A hybrid nanoparticle/alkoxide ink for inkjet printing of TiO2: a templating effect to form anatase at 200°C. RSC Adv. 9 (2019) 39143-39146. 
  6. K. Black, J. Singh, D. Mehta, et al. Silver Ink Formulations for Sinter-free Printing of Conductive Films. Sci. Rep. 6 (2016) 20814.