Designing a 3D printer that can work on any surface

Proposed by Dr Siddarth Joshi


3D printing is an excellent new way for prototyping and is already in extensive use. But it is limited to being printed on dedicated platforms where great care is needed in positioning and repeatability of the print head and the platform on which printing can occur is tuned to the filament used. If 3D printing is to become say a widely used construction technique then having a print head on fixed arms is a bad idea.


Can the team design a 3D printer that will work on any surface without the 3D print head being fixed to rigid arms? The team will need to solve issues of inertial navigation errors, material properties, thermal effects and being able to support the print head on top of the printed object.

Output ideas

Additive manufacturing (3D printing) is already a well established business so a business case is likely to be more focused around where being able to add one material to a wider set of substrates of another material would be most useful and what added capabilities that could give.

The real challenge in this case is two fold, identifying a strategy that does not rely on using the substrate to cool, grip, stick to the printed material and then identifying how an inertial guidance system can be precise enough to allow 3D printing and is not size limited. This could be addressed by conducting a feasibility study: identifying promising solutions, figuring out gaps where we just don’t know what can be done to solve it (or it is widely believed impossible).


Ngo, T. D., Kashani, A., Imbalzano, G., Nguyen, K. T. Q., and Hui, D. (2018). Additive manufacturing (3D printing): A review of materials, methods, applications and challenges, Composites Part B: Engineering, 143, 172-196. (Access through UoB).