Additive manufacturing brings almost limitless flexibility
It’s a technology that allows people to make just about anything they can dream up using just about any material imaginable. The sheer versatility of 3D printing has had immeasurable impact. Many of those applications are useful in industrial production, where the technology is known as additive manufacturing. Embracing this method has helped Australian manufacturers diversify their production and keep up with the rapid pace of change in today’s world.
Oh, The Possibilities
The University of Sydney managed to secure a $3 million grant over three years in conjunction with the US Department of Defense’s Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), with the possibility of a two-year extension down the line. Prof. Simon Ringer, academic director of the school’s Core Research Facilities, is full of ideas about where additive manufacturing can go.
“When you go to the periodic table, people think we know pretty much all that we need to know about all the elements,” he told PACE Today. “But, if we think about the binary combinations of all the elements in the periodic table, funnily enough we haven’t explored them all – many, but not all. If I say I want to make a binary or alloy of two things, I’m going to one of each elements – how many combos have we actually explored of the binaries where we take two out. We actually haven’t done them all. Now, what if I add the possibility of ternary elements of the periodic table into the equation?
“What about all of the ternaries on the periodic table. We’ve done a tiny slice of all space – the quaternary, the quinary – the six, the seven, the eight.
“We have not even touched on it. This technology will invite us to revisit all of those questions. We land on materials that work and then we incrementally develop them and so on. This almost sends us back to the periodic table and explores what can really be done with these things. It’s extremely exciting from an engineering view point.”
Ringer said additive manufacturing helps reduce waste compared to working with traditional alloys. Products that in the past have been shaved down with a lathe can now be printed using precisely the correct amount of material, saving time and money. Additive manufacturing also allows for creating unique products on a small scale.
“The kind of designs you can make in 3D metal printing are literally limited by our imagination,” Ringer said. “There is disruption about low volumes being OK and manufacturers will be able to do bespoke manufacturing and that is exciting. Especially in Australia. You can do hi-tech, low-volume stuff and keep your shirt. There will be a lot of little factories opening up. Even to the point where you could have a high-end, $3 million metal 3D printer and you can do your jobs from home, but rent the printer for an hour to punch out a few jobs and get Amazon to deliver it to you.
“There were things that were entirely impossible – like double re-entry angles for example – that will now be possible. If you were trying to make these items with a mill or lathe, it was almost impossible. Now, if you can draw it, you can make it.”
Planning for the Future
Western Sydney manufacturer C-Mac Industries made the decision last year to invest in 3D printing capabilities after more than 50 years in business. In the year since, C-Mac has printed products for medical, industrial, architectural, construction, manufacturing, food, and research companies.
“You have to embrace change,” C-Mac General Manager Steve Grlyak told 3D Printing Media Network. “We have seen so many manufacturing companies in Sydney go bankrupt because they are not willing to change or are slow to adapt to change or have over capitalised on the wrong equipment.”
In that short amount of time, C-Mac has seen the value of additive manufacturing and is jumping in with both feet. “It is only the beginning,” director Robert McMaster said. “We are also looking into having a 3D printing scholarship award to provide help to students in Australia along with striving to build a bridge between knowledge and practice. The future is upon us.”
Titomic’s patented kinetic fusion printer uses a titanium cold spray to combine dissimilar metals into a cohesive unit. This facilitates the construction of stronger structures without welding, folding, or bending weak points. Using the world’s largest and fastest metal 3D printer, Titomic is making unmanned armed vehicles and soldier systems for TAUV and will soon embark on shipbuilding for Fincantieri Australia.
“This agreement with Fincantieri marks a significant milestone for future shipbuilding and industrial scale additive manufacturing,” Titomic CEO Jeff Lang said in a statement when the deal was announced. “Titomic’s signing with Fincantieri to evaluate our Titomic kinetic fusion process will not only add value to existing manufacturing and repair activities, it will lead to the creation of next-generation high-tech vessels.”
Creative uses for additive manufacturing will only keep coming. Soon, remote printing — wherein a product is designed in one location and printed in another — will be a reality. This can be especially useful for mining companies or those operating at sea. It could also lead to digital inventory, with warehouses not needing to keep as much physical inventory on hand because they can print more as needed.
Whilst serial manufacturing of some small items such as hearing aids and shaving blade handles is already possible, it will take time for additive manufacturing to be able to scale price and quality suitable for printing mass quantities of larger items.
Ringer, for one, is not deterred.
“Ten years from now, I would say this: ‘Many engineers would look back and say after WWII Australia had a great capability in manufacturing,’” he said. “‘We really did. In the decades after WWII, our capability diminished, but with one thing and another we got into the early part of the 21st century and some disruptions happened and all of a sudden with this additive manufacturing disruption Australia’s time came again. Australia was able to build outstanding world-class manufacturing capability because we were positioned well to harness this disruption.’ That’s what I see.
“‘And so when you go into the future western suburbs of Sydney, we’ll see global supply chains that are done in manufacturing in Sydney and other parts of Australia.’ I would also say this: ‘The Australian academic community – people like myself, took our responsibility to take Australia, as did policymakers at state and federal level and the governments, to position Australia to be able to capture this special opportunity.’”