Two years ago a challenge was placed at the feet of Monash University vice-provost of research Professor Ian Smith. That challenge, provided by aerospace company Safran, was to make a copy of one of their old jet engines.
The challenge was enthusiastically accepted by Professor Smith and his team. A partnership was formed with Amaero Engineering and they set to work.
To achieve the desired result they used 3D printing technology as they possessed and “end-to-end” design and manufacturing technology. They could prototype the product in print and put it together because the university made the materials on site as well.
They were ultimately successful and captured the attention of other large aerospace players such as Airbus, Boeing and defence contractor Raytheon.
The ramifications of this rapid prototyping technology means that engineers can test parts in shorter time frames; days instead of months whilst the manufacture of the world’s first 3D-printed engine will lead to cheaper, lighter and more fuel-efficient jets.
“[In the past you had to] melt, mould, carve and turn to get the final product,” said Professor Smith.
“This way we can very quickly get a final product, so the advantages of this technology are, firstly, for rapid prototyping and making a large number of prototypes quickly.
“Secondly, for being able to make bespoke parts that you wouldn’t be able to with classic engineering technologies.”
The full scope of what this technology can do is only starting to be understood. Further applications include:
- Design and manufacture of bespoke parts which could never be created with traditional engineering technologies
- Applications in the bio-medical industry (scanning body parts for replacement)
- Additive manufacturing: fusing powdered nickel, aluminium or titanium into objects
Professor Smith was bold enough to suggest that the technology may take the place of the once strong car industry and re-introduce manufacturing into the Australian economy.
“We would like to think that revolutionary, disruptive technologies like this can take the place of some of the more traditional industries.
“We can build new industries or we can regenerate existing industries with these kinds of technologies.”