KU Leuven: Princess Elisabeth inaugurates 3D printing lab that bears her name at KU Leuven

The ‘Princess Elisabeth Additive Manufacturing Lab’ is the name of the newest 3D printing lab at the Department of Mechanical Engineering. The lab was officially inaugurated today with a visit from its ambassador, Crown Princess Elisabeth.

After the children’s hospital in Ghent and a scientific base in Antarctica, there is now also a 3D printing lab that bears the name of the crown princess. The ‘Princess Elisabeth Additive Manufacturing Lab’ at the Department of Mechanical Engineering of KU Leuven was officially inaugurated today with a visit from Princess Elisabeth. She was given a tour of the various research areas and was briefly introduced to the techniques and different applications of 3D printing.

“We are particularly honored by the visit of the Crown Princess and the role she is taking on as a committed ambassador for our new lab and scientific research,” said Professor Brecht Van Hooreweder, head of the research team. “3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM) as we say in the field, is a fascinating and versatile technology that can be used in many domains. You can really let your imagination run wild and create the craziest objects.”

“We also want to use the new lab to get even more young people interested in science and technology. Certainly in engineering programmes, with the exception of bio-engineering sciences, we notice that female students are often still underrepresented. That is why we are all the more happy that a young woman like Princess Elisabeth is committed to this.”

Building on strong research tradition
KU Leuven has had an excellent reputation in the field of 3D printing since the 1990s. In this way, the university helped lay the foundations for scientific research in what was then a radically innovative technology. This also resulted in the creation of two successful spin-offs: Materialize and LayerWise, which is now part of 3DSystems.

In 3D printing, you convert a virtual design into a physical three-dimensional object by building it layer by layer. This is possible with plastic, but also with ceramics or metals, such as steel, copper or titanium. The design freedom in 3D printing is very large and the step from design to product is small.

The 3D printing sector is growing every year, by an average of 25 percent. More and more products are being 3D printed, but that does not mean that conventional production techniques will disappear completely. “You should always consider where the technology can provide sufficient added value,” says Hellen De Coninck, PhD student in the AM research team. “The domain of health care is one of them. Personalized artificial joints are already being made with 3D printing, but at KU Leuven we also conduct research into printing prostheses with living tissue, for example. Another future perspective is the 3D printing of personalized medication.”

Crown at work
In the past five years, the number of activities in additive manufacturing at KU Leuven has tripled. The new ‘Princess Elisabeth Additive Manufacturing Lab’ expands the research possibilities, explains Professor Van Hooreweder. “We are constantly looking for ways to improve 3D printing techniques and material quality. Our machines are designed and built in-house. This way we are always one step ahead and we can immediately experiment with new materials, techniques and printing processes.”

Princess Elisabeth will also receive a unique memento of her visit. It will have a cylinder made of feather-light but particularly robust aluminum: a crown has been incorporated inside, which is only visible if you look in the right direction through the porous structure. The keepsake, which weighs a mere 32 grams, has no fewer than 1384 print layers.

Flemish Minister of Science and Innovation Jo Brouns was also present at the opening. “Flanders is one of the world leaders in 3D printing technology. We have built up expertise through KU Leuven and Materialize, among others, which we now also export to various other countries. We can rightly be proud of that. Because for me innovation is not an end in itself, but a means, for example to offer better care with precise and personalized artificial joints via 3D printing. I can only support the fact that we are also starting a story with Princess Elisabeth to enthuse young and female students for innovation and technology.”