Infraprint: 3D printing its way to success, one part at a time

5 Jun 2023

Andrew Dickson. Image: Infraprint

Founded by Andrew Dickson and Denis Dowling in January, this UCD spin-out is creating 3D printed parts for high-value industries such as space and energy.

Many PhD students keep in touch with their supervisors after completing their degrees. Some even go on to work alongside their supervisors on research papers and projects. But not every day do you come across a student-supervisor duo that decide to found a company together.

Infraprint is one such company, founded by Dr Andrew Dickson and Prof Denis Dowling of University College Dublin (UCD) less than six months ago.

Based in NovaUCD, Infraprint is a 3D printing start-up that manufactures high-performance polymers and composite materials for the space, energy and aerospace industries.

Its unique selling point? Patented technology developed in UCD allows this company to print high-value parts for these industries on a contract basis that are stronger and more efficiently produced than traditional 3D printing methods currently used.

Known as Thermal Radiation Assisted Additive Manufacturing, or TRAAM, the technology utilises infrared light to selectively heat the layers of a part during the printing process.

This helps to “weld” the layers together and slow down cooling rate, making the layers stronger.

“We are using this technology to print extremely strong thermoplastic parts for industries such as aerospace, space and energy,” said Dickson, chief executive of Infraprint.

“Most of our applications have focused on printing high-performance polymer parts that can be used in-place of metals, to reduce weight, cost and increase design freedom.”

Reducing waste and speeding up production

Having completed his PhD in manufacturing engineering from UCD with a focus on 3D printing and materials, when he was supervised by co-founder Dowling, Dickson went on to be a research fellow at the university for three years.

It was during this time that the idea behind Infraprint was consolidated.

Dickson, with the help of Dowling, developed TRAAM over a two-year period, backed with funding from Enterprise Ireland. They identified a demand within the industry to transition from subtractive manufacturing (such as cutting and milling) to additive manufacturing.

“This was primarily to reduce materials waste, speed up production and reduce reliance on complex supply chains. But a major obstacle for adoption is the reliability and knowledge of the currently available 3D systems and products on the market,” Dickson explained.

“Infraprint harnesses the combined materials knowledge of our founding team and IP developed in UCD to create a go-to platform for companies to have their products produced through additive manufacturing.”

Dowling, a professor of surface engineering and advanced manufacturing, is the director of I-Form, a Science Foundation Ireland manufacturing research centre headquartered in UCD. He supported Infraprint through commercialisation before joining it as a co-founder in January.

Ongoing trials with potential ‘regulars’

Currently operating on a contract manufacturing model, Infraprint produces and prototypes parts for a range of sectors in low volumes. The founders hope this model can be expanded in the future to include design elements and eventually even develop hardware products.

And it looks like they’re well on their way to reaching their goals.

“Things have ramped up quickly since we founded in January this year, we have begun trials with a number of players in the space, energy and aerospace sectors,” Dickson said, hoping many of these trials will transfer into regular customers.

“For many companies this will be their first venture into additive, and it is exciting to see the enthusiasm from companies and their willingness to adopt new technologies.”

But as an engineer with no particular expertise in business, running a start-up as CEO and chief technology officer is no piece of cake.

“One of the greatest challenges that I have met along the way is transitioning my thinking from a purely technical and engineering mindset to that of a business mindset. Just because a technology is technically superior does not automatically make it a success,” Dickson said.

“It is vital to find the right partners, use cases and markets. Enterprise Ireland has been hugely supportive in providing training in this regard over the past two years, particularly for technical founders.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic