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Hartley Henderson investigates the rise and rise of 3D printing in Australia and Asia.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the future potential of additive manufacturing, (otherwise known as 3D printing or layer manufacturing) and whether it could even lead to the next industrial revolution.
A recent meeting in Melbourne hosted by CSIRO was aimed at facilitating the establishment of an Additive Manufacturing Network by bringing together the research and development, service provider and end-user communities to share information and visions for the future of this emerging technology.
Keynote speaker at the meeting, former CEO of Siemens Australia and New Zealand, and current chair of Manufacturing Excellence Taskforce of Australia (known as META), Albert Goller, believes that too many Australian manufacturing companies today are focussed on customers within only one industry.
“There is a need for manufacturers to adapt to servicing across a diverse range of different industries, including textiles, rail and defence,” he said.
“We must develop greater flexibility with a focus on mass customisation, shorter cycle times in developing a product and bringing it to market, and sustainability by bringing the supply chain under control.
“Much greater attention must be given to agility, connectivity, collaboration, and creativity in order to provide a flexible solution for manufacturing industry in this country.”
At Monash University’s ARC Centre of Excellence for Design in Light Metals there is a focus on the utilisation of laser melting additive manufacturing machines. The Centre is pursuing a joint program with CSIRO and Deakin University to manufacture a small engine utilising additive manufacturing technology.
Director of the Centre, Prof Xinhua Wu, believes that additive manufacturing will revolutionise 21st Century manufacturing industry through a range of benefits including very short lead times and low manpower requirements.
“However, there are also some challenges that need to be addressed in commercialising additive manufacturing, such as material properties, repeatability and the ability of shop floor engineers to redesign,” she said.
“There is a need for close collaboration between experts in materials, design, engineering and commercialisation. Historically Australia has not been good at such collaboration and there is a need to create a win/win situation between stakeholders.”
Launched in 2011, RMIT University’s $20M Advanced Manufacturing Precinct includes a key focus on the advancement of both metal and polymer based additive manufacturing technologies.
RMIT’s Prof Milan Brandt says additive manufacturing research includes topography optimisation in design, manipulation of structures, materials research and manufacturing process optimisation.
“The global market for additive manufacturing is said to be growing at about 16 percent per annum and is projected to reach US$3.5bn by 2015,” he said.
“Our additive manufacturing research in the Precinct is focused in four main areas: aerospace and automotive engineering, bioengineering, sports engineering, and design.
“In current projects we are working on the development of direct manufacturing of small scale components, as well as repair technologies for aircraft systems, such as landing wheels.
At Swinburne University of Technology a new Manufacturing and Design Centre is being built that will include a ‘Factory of the Future’ which is scheduled to open in 2014 and include five studios with advanced equipment including 3D printing.
End user view
Michael Edwards, general manager, Boeing Research and Technology Australia, says the company, which manufactures various aircraft components in Australia, is focused on innovative ways to reduce lead time and the cost of development programs.
“We are looking at additive manufacturing and digital design, together with a major investment in up-skilling, as solutions to shortening the supply chain. This could play a significant role in assisting to develop the very big markets of Asia on our doorstep,” he said.
“There is a need for change and to make a paradigm shift in development programs because they are getting longer and more expensive.”
Edwards sees additive manufacturing as the start of a potential new industrial revolution, but emphasises the need for industry sectors to work more collaboratively, and for stronger strategic alliances between industry and R&D organisations.
Service provider role
A number of companies are now providing additive manufacturing services, including AMS (Advanced Manufacturing Services, part of the Breseight Group), which has a range of advanced manufacturing machines including those that the company says are capable of building in metals such as cobalt chrome, stainless steel, aluminium and titanium, as well as plastics.
Breseight’s CEO, Marc Perez, says that the range of additive manufacturing applications and solutions is set to expand, including in the areas of medical, military, police, injection moulding, food customised process handling, aerospace, jewellery, automotive and renewable energy.
“Increasingly in the future, it will not be the big companies that eat the small, but the quick enterprises that eat the slow,” he said.
Following the CSIRO-hosted meeting, an Inaugural Committee has been formed to come up with future arrangements for the establishment and operation of a national Additive Manufacturing Network, to be driven by all stakeholders.
Dr Swee Mak, Future Manufacturing Flagship director, says CSIRO’s objective in initiating the Additive Manufacturing Network is to facilitate greater engagement between Australian industry and advanced technical resource providers.
“We use our Arcam facility to partner with interested Australian manufacturers to facilitate the uptake of additive manufacturing technologies in their businesses,” he said.
John Barnes, who leads CSIRO’s Titanium Technologies, believes that additive manufacturing has reached its tipping point.
“While it is unlikely to fully replace conventional manufacturing technologies, thanks to the savings in time, risk, and materials it offers, future factories are just as likely to include 3D printers as conventional milling machines, presses, foundries and injection moulding machines,” he said.
At the National University of Singapore (NUS) significant additive manufacturing research and education programs are underway.
Prof Ian Gibson, at NUS’s Engineering Design and Innovation Centre, points out that a major benefit of additive manufacturing is in waste reduction because of its layer-by-layer additive process, compared with traditional metal machining that takes away layers to form an object and can result in substantial waste.
“Often, no assembly is involved with the additive manufacturing process, which is capable of producing rapid prototypes, and people are now also realising that this technology is feasible as a direct manufacturing process,” he told Manufacturers’ Monthly during a recent interview in Singapore.
“Three major industries have evolved through the use of additive manufacturing. The automotive industry has shortened product development processes in parallel with manufacturing processes, and in the aerospace industry additive manufacturing is used to deal with engineering complexities involving external as well as internal geometry.
“In the medical field, 3D models are being created of individual patients to enable the development of custom designed implants.
“New localised niche markets can be developed through the use of additive manufacturing to provide low cost design and quick response to the requirements of consumers. Mass production and mass customisation have got to work hand in hand.”