Additive manufacturing or 3D printing of metals is a sustainable answer to our product-intensive society. It contributes to the creation of safer metals with longer lifespans in an ecologically and economically responsible way. VUB professor Iris De Graeve is an expert in additive manufacturing and, alongside colleague Prof Herman Terryn, she has received the prestigious Marie Sklodowska-Curie Doctoral Network Grant for the DurAMat project. “Additive manufacturing is a relatively new technology,” says De Graeve. “It’s already being applied, but there needs to be a lot of research around it before it can be fully rolled out. We’re looking for 11 excellent PhD students to work with us on the DurAMat project, across five EUTOPIA partners, international research centres and industry.”

Traditional manufacturing of metal products begins with a rolled sheet or profile and each part has to be assembled. With additive manufacturing, you build the product layer by layer in one step. “We start with a powder or wire and start printing,” says De Graeve. “You print the product in three dimensions. In doing so, you end up with a completely new material. You start with steel, but you end up with a product whose properties we haven’t yet fully mapped. That’s what we want to investigate within the DurAMat project.”

DurAMat is about sustainability. For example, the researchers want to give products a longer lifespan by repairing them. “At the moment, broken products made of metal are thrown away and replaced with new products,” says De Graeve. “Ideally, they’d be recycled, but often they aren’t. Via additive manufacturing, you can reprint a broken piece on to the intact part. So we need fewer raw materials and can use our natural resources more sustainably.

“The objective is to investigate various properties of the 3D printed metals, such as strength and corrosion, and then improve them. We’re focusing on materials that are suitable for use in extreme conditions, such as in the maritime sector. Some PhD students will work experimentally and others will study material behaviour through modelling and machine learning methods, with the aim of being able to predict behaviour together over the longer term.” 

The students will work at five of the universities in the EUTOPIA alliance. “We deliberately looked for colleagues within EUTOPIA,” says De Graeve. “We’ve found interesting partners at NOVA University in Lisbon, Portugal, the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, the Technische Universität Dresden in Germany and the University of Warwick in the UK. Thanks to the growing cooperation within EUTOPIA, I’ve also secured two EUTOPIA PhDs outside the DurAMat project with NOVA University.”

The project will also provide broad training to participating doctoral students. “We have a schedule of workshops spread among the partners. We focus not only on the scientific element but also on issues such as gender and diversity in research, ecologically responsible research and the business aspect. We believe it’s important to engage in socially responsible employment wherever possible in our economically driven society. For example, we work with the company DETAIL for our website, which is linked to De Lift school in Diest for pupils on the autism spectrum.”

Bringing the 11 students together also forges international ties. “We want to create a strong network,” says De Graeve. “The researchers will carry out research in other labs for several months. The aim of the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Doctoral Network Grant is to create world citizens who can enhance the European economy. Europe has a solid position in additive manufacturing, but it’s tough going up against competitors such as China. That’s why it’s important that we train excellent and innovative researchers.”


The team at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium – Iris De Graeve, Herman Terryn, Reynier Revilla and Fatma Demir – steers the coordination of the DurAMat collaboration. They are accompanied by for EUTOPIA partners represented by João Pedro Oliveira of NOVA University Lisbon, Mohsen Mirkhalaf of the University of Gothenburg, Axel Voigt of the Technische Universität Dresden, and James Kermode and Peter Brommer of the University of Warwick, which is an associated partner in the DurAMat project.

Two leading research institutes are part of the beneficiary team of DurAMat, with Mikhail Zheludkevich, Sviatlana Lamaka and Christian Feiler of the German Helmholtz-Zentrum HEREON (in cooperation with the Christian-Albert Universiteit van Kiel for the PhD award), and Dominique Thierry of RISE in Sweden. Companies will also offer know-how and research training: GUARANTEED, OCAS and ELSYCA in Belgium, SANDVIK in Sweden, SMALLMATEK in Portugal and ENDURES in the Netherlands.

EUTOPIA is an ambitious alliance of 10 like-minded universities who are willing to reinvent themselves: Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca (Romania), the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium), CY Cergy Paris Université (France), Ca’ Foscari University of Venice (Italy), Technische Universität Dresden (Germany), the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), the University of Ljubljana (Slovenia), NOVA University Lisbon (Portugal), Universitat Pompeu-Fabra in Barcelona (Spain) and the University of Warwick (UK). These 10 pioneers have joined forces to create the university of the future.