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An automated desktop laboratory for preparing and spraying functional coating films
Group Members
Robert Alexander, Joanna Forrester, Charles Goodman, Alexander Lloyd, Kirsty Lynch, Dean Orman
Dr Andrew Hamilton, Dr Zheng Jiang
This project provides a proof of concept for a low-cost, desktopsized laboratory, able to spray functional coatings. Functional coatings can alter and enhance a material’s surface properties or provide a functional benefit, such as solar energy harvesting. The market for coatings in the United Kingdom was worth £11 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow.

This project is a step towards realising an automated desktop laboratory, to improve processes currently used by research groups at the University. Currently, the application of these coatings is restricted to labour-intensive hand spraying processes, that are inconsistent when coating 3D objects, and dip coating processes, which have a high amount of chemical waste.

The key achievements were: five-axis spraying capability; development of software to allow the machine to spray objects directly from their computer model files; and a chemical delivery system capable of delivering multiple chemicals. These key innovations will allow 3D contours to be sprayed with multi-layer coatings, which is an important field of research. Using a test coating, a consistent film thickness of 1.5 μm across 74% of the spray width was achieved, which is of comparable film thickness to that found in research literature. Both the amount of chemical wastage and time taken to apply the coating were reduced, as compared with current methods. Innovations such as this desktop-sized laboratory will aid the growing research into functional coatings to solve problems facing our society. For instance, coatings that can harvest solar energy could be used to assist political and environmental trends towards generating sustainable and energy-efficient design solutions.