Published: 28 July 2020

3D printed ‘Transformer’ could transform the way we produce chemicals

A school student on placement with the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering has developed a 3D printed model which offers all the functionality of a real chemical plant in an aesthetically-pleasing package.

The ‘Transformer’, which is the size of a small cabin suitcase, enables the user to learn about all the basic chemical processes such as melting, purifying and CO2 extraction. The device consists of seven different 3D-printed plastic parts, a small touchscreen and a USB, and is powered by a generic mains plug.

Yuntian Fang, a sixth-former at Royal Grammar School, Guildford, designed and developed the device over two summer placements spent in the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering, under the supervision of Head of Department Professor Sai Gu.

Designed as a display and teaching model, the Transformer can be replicated by schools, colleges and universities around the world since the open source code and user manual are being made freely available online. The device was produced at a cost of a few hundred pounds.

Professor Gu said:

“When I originally gave Yuntian the project, I imagined him producing a model to show what a pilot plant looks like. I didn’t think that it would be possible to create an actual working plant. Yuntian was 100 per cent focused on the project and used his knowledge not just of chemical processing but also electronics to achieve this."

The Department now has plans to challenge undergraduate students with the task of designing a new generation of Transformer every year, with these models then donated to schools as teaching aids.

Professor Gu believes that the device also points to huge opportunities for industry.

“The project was inspired by the sixth sense project which is developing autonomous technology for use in industry,” he explained. “In the future, you can imagine a Transformer with drone capabilities which could enable companies to produce chemicals wherever and whenever they need them, providing a solution which is completely mobile and also offers environmental benefits.”

Esat Alpay, Associate Dean (Education) in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: "Yuntian’s work demonstrates how entrusting students with creative, independent and product-orientated work can lead to inspirational outcomes and deeply rewarding learning experiences. This is an ethos of engineering at Surrey that we will continue to promote on day one of our degree programmes!”


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