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A view of manufacturing processes is presented in which five distinct categories are defined as casting, deformation, machining, joining, and solid freeforming. Solid freeforming is essentially biomimetic and shares problems of morphogenesis with natural processes. Our team in University of London has been exploring three mechanisms of solid freeforming. In dry powder deposition and direct ink-jet printing, the emphasis has turned to the problem of delivering a complex shape in which the three dimensional spatial arrangement of composition is delivered from the design file. In extrusion freeforming, the aim is to control microstructure at hierarchical levels also from the design file. The quest for 3-D functional gradients is satisfied by acoustic and ultrasonic dispensing and mixing of powders so that each layer can be patterned. These methods could be extended to deliver the complex patterns demanded by left-handed microwave metamaterials. Dry powder deposition and direct ink-jet printing are turning towards combinatorial methods in which multiple sample libraries are used to accelerate discovery. In turn, this paves the way for 'autonomous research machines' which steer their own search refinements in response to our requests for new materials. In this way, solid freeforming used for sample preparation can give an 'arm' to an intelligent machine so that it can conduct its own experimentation and learning; an idea that originated with Alan Turing in the late 1940s.
Date of Publication: June 2009