The Wollongong legacy: How 3D printing can support traditional manufacturing

Cities built on coal and steel can act as the bedrock for mobilising advanced manufacturing across Australia, according to an industry champion.

Leanne Connelly, co-founder of the manufacturer Me3D, is based in Wollongong, where her company makes student-friendly 3D printers which schoolchildren as young as seven are now learning to operate.

She also notes Newcastle, traditionally a place known for steel manufacturing, as an area of growth for new technology – uniquely placed and already primed to aid emerging industries.

“I think 3D printing is an incredibly powerful tool for more than just manufacturing,” Connelly said, “and is speeding up the process of product development and product design.

“It is also decreasing the cost of establishing manufacturing capabilities and is already augmenting the traditional manufacturing industry.

“But I think where it is going to be most interesting is in industries that previously weren’t able to tap into that product development side and directly manufacture things themselves.

“It used to be a case that you had to go through lengthy and expensive processes to have things made, but now these companies are using new technologies.”

The medical sector is one area where she has seen growth, as 3D printing has enabled the production of surgical implements and even biological elements on site.

In the construction industry, it is too proving to be a “cheap and flexible mechanism for the building of small-scale structures”, Connelly explained.

“It is also changing the core structure of companies creating parts for low-volume but high-cost industries like  like the aerospace industry and has even expanded into the food industry,” she continued.

“The power is in its democratising technology – it offers the ability to customise and augment items on site.

“When you see very large, traditional companies like Caterpillar are now putting a 3D printer on every employee’s desks and into the hands of everyone on their teams, that’s when you start to realise this is a creative tool anybody can use.

“The best thing we can do is give people the skills they need to use it as young as possible so that, once they hit the workforce, they are not on that huge learning curve and they already know the basics.

“That’s where we will see real waves of innovation – not only in 3D printing but also in how effective 3D printing can be.”

The materials industry is next – with polymers, metals and ceramics set to see the biggest advances in the next five to 10 years.

Machines will be able to rapidly switch and combine materials from the ground up, which means companies will be able to save by only taking materials they need rather than stocking up for rainy days. 

Advanced manufacturing employs around 11,000 people in Wollongong, which represents an 11 per cent increase in the past 12 months.

In addition, the city sees 600 students graduate from the University of Wollongong with an engineering-related degree annually, which is said to benefit from the city’s rich manufacturing legacy.

“Steel manufacturing and mining are still vitally important to the city,” said Gordon Bradbery OAM, Lord Mayor of Wollongong.

“[However], we are now seeing the rise of advanced manufacturing, with highly specialised companies such as Bisalloy and Micromax, competing in global and national markets.

“The rise of these competitive advanced businesses is bringing significant changes to our city.”EndFragment 

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