The University of Technology Sydney (UTS)   


  • Congratulations to Dr. Kevin Cook and Dr. Tim Chen for their CAPEX funding to support iPL work on developing sensors within 3D printed orthotics. Welcome to Mr. Zhongyang Hao a regular student intern from UNSW who has been funded to work this project. This work complements related work on smart horse shoes and disabled orthotics pioneered by iPL partner Prof. Cicero Martelli at UTFPR in Brazil. 
  • In joint collaborative work with Prof Gang-Ding Peng at UNSW, we welcome Mr. Yushi Zhu completing his final year of his PhD at UTS working on 3D printing of optical fibres. Yushi was also funded to spend the previous year at UNSW.
  • In ongoing collaboration with the University of Sydney, School of Medicine's Dr. Daniel Johnstone, we welcome newly started PhD student Mr. Luke Gordon working on advanced medical diagnostics. 


World first: silica optical fibres drawn from 3D printed preforms

A joint collaboration between the interdisciplinary Photonics Laboratories (iPL) led by Prof Canning at Tech Lab, UTS and the National Fibre Facility led by Prof Peng at UNSW has resulted in the first silica glass fibres drawn from 3D printed preforms (Figure 1).

Using local technology and design, from the 3D printer to the custom-design draw towers, this work builds off the earlier pioneering work of the group in demonstrating the first fibre of any material drawn from a 3D printed preform, already significant given the role it can play in polymer optics for data centres and more. Despite the enthusiastic stream of members joining the 3D printing fibre club after these initial polymer demonstrations, silica has remained the unconquered Holy Grail. Immense material challenges, including high temperatures, has inhibited progress but a novel combination of materials and extended nanoparticle integration has become the first means of overcoming this barrier, paving the way for an anticipated flurry of research activity worldwide. It offers the most significant potential for disrupting photonics, which underpins the internet of things (IoT), and, consequently, the world as we know today.

Prof Canning notes: “The reason why this is so significant: nearly all fibre today is based on a highly skilled, labour intensive design and fabrication process where material in tubes is spun on a lathe so the design has to be centred. This is one of the greatest sources of cost in fibre manufacture as well as its limitations – yet, fibre optic cables underpin global communications, the internet and indeed increasingly our very identity as surveyed social creatures. I recognised very early on that additive manufacturing was well suited to disrupt all these aspects and that means changing the entire approach to fibre design and purpose – when you look at the coming IoT, this is retrospectively both obvious and essential. Fibre optic sensors, for example, far out perform electronic equivalents both in terms of longevity, calibration and maintenance but they have expensive up-front costs under current fabrication approaches that have prohibited their wider deployment beyond niche high trials in high value industries such as the energy sector (where it’s still somewhat limited).”

Even fancy structured optical fibres, as varied as Fresnel waveguides and spun structured fibres (also pioneered by the team), are assembled manually with a centred design. But Prof Canning reiterates that additive manufacturing disrupts this completely – there is no committed reason why a core, or multiple cores, should be centred or that you have to assemble structures. This first demonstration pioneers this disruption.

Prof Canning further notes: “This amazing development of extended size, high resolution glass printing goes beyond fibre optics for transmission and sensing: it potentially unleashes transformative ceramic and glass technologies for numerous industries including lighting, display and much, much more. It’s only the start with a hell of a lot of work to do, made possible by the unique convergence of shared expertise in 3D printing and optical fibre fabrication. I welcome both industry and the community to engage and collaborate with us to help transform the world as we know it today.”

On a personal note he adds: “I feel this work represents the best of Australian research: democratic with global reach, generous, collaborative, resilient in many respects, and society and community minded – we got here through the personal and community collaborations imbued with the spirit of exploration, the core of what Tech Lab is about. It’s something we’re excited by and something we want to share with those who want to join the journey”.