Environmentally Benign Manufacturing
Professor Timothy Gutowski
The Environmentally Benign Manufacturing (EBM) research group is part of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity in the Mechanical Engineering Department at MIT. The EBM group is focused on examining the environmental impacts of the product lifecycle, with specific focus on the design, manufacturing, and end-of-life stages.
The Sachs lab is tooling up to do research in photovoltaics, specifically with crystaline silicon. Prior to this transition the lab spent a decade developing a solid freeform technology known as 3-Dimensional Printing. What is unique about the 3DP process is the range of materials and material systems it allowed because the base materials are combined in both powder and liquid form. The powders can range in size and geometry and mixture and the liquid binders can be polymers, suspensions, compounds, solvents or even plain water. This versatility allowed for a wide range of material systems and niche application areas. The process has been licensed to several successful startup companies.
One of the reasons we continue a low level of activity with 3DP is that near the end of our research we stumbled on a potentially powerful process for making resorbable polymer bone repair scaffolds. These implantable devices can be fabricated from 3D medical images (eg MRI) to replace damaged or diseased regions of tissue. Currently the research being conducted at MGH and the Cleveland Clinic is on bone. The scaffold macro geometry is defined by the 3DP powder printing process which can resolve features such as net shape and vascularization down to about 200 microns. Micro geometry and surface properties necessary for cell attachment, signaling and proliiforation are created through the powder mixes and post-processing steps. In use, the scaffolds are infused with progenitor cells (adult stem cells) from the bone marrow of the patient and surgically implanted. As new replacement bone material develops the polymer scaffold degrades and is resorbed. This research is currently in animal study and nearing clinical trial.