Research takes centre stage at International Air Show

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A 3D printed jet engine, produced by Monash researchers, has been unveiled at the International Air Show in Avalon this week.

Working with CSIRO and Deakin University, Professor Xinhua Wu, head of the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing (MCAM), is leading initiatives to develop 3D printing and put Australia at the forefront of the global aerospace industry. 

Under the direction of Professor Wu, MCAM is working to provide answers for manufacturers such as the French aerospace group Safran, who are seeking new manufacturing processes that make components lighter and cheaper than traditional ones, but without any reduction in performance.

A fast and creative process that offers many environmental benefits, Monash and its spin-out company Amaero, have also printed a second engine, which is currently displayed in Toulouse at Safran.

The engines are a proof of concept that’s led to tier one aerospace companies lining up to develop new components at the Centre. The project has also created advanced manufacturing opportunities for Australian businesses large and small.

Professor Wu, said additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has the potential to bring huge economic as well as environmental benefits.

"When industry wants particular performance benefits, under particular conditions, we understand what they need and why, and we are increasingly able to deliver it. I believe the next generation of aerospace manufacturing may well start here, in Australia,” she said. 

Using 3D printing, engine components can be produced in dramatically shorter time frames - rather than taking up to two years by using a mould, a component can be made in a week.

The printing builds directly from digital designs, and is virtually waste-free. It uses what is effectively a computerised layering process, building up layer after layer of metallic powder. Depending on the purpose of the end product, titanium, nickel, aluminium or steel alloys may be selected for their various properties and applications.

The nature of the process strips away the creative limitations imposed by traditional methods - a component can rapidly be made, tested, modified and rebuilt. Highly complex designs can be generated in one process, without the need to modify or join parts, and redundant weight can be removed from components without reducing their performance capacities.

The process is inherently environmentally friendly, reducing energy and materials usage, but it also has immense advantages in terms of being able to reduce the weight of planes or engines, with concomitant decreases in carbon emissions. It may even be used to help reduce noise pollution.

“Monash is one of the few places in the world to have both the technology and the research expertise needed to make this step into the future a reality. The unique strength of MCAM is that the Centre can deliver not only the benefits in terms of manufacturing, design and cost reduction, but also being able to engineer the required microstructure and mechanical properties in 3D printed components to meet the specification requirements for individual applications” Professor Wu said.

Professor Ian Smith, Vice Provost (Research and Research Infrastructure) at Monash University, said Australia’s manufacturing industries need access to the latest technologies to stay competitive.

“This Centre allows them to rapidly prototype metal devices across a wide range of industries. It’s part of a large integrated suite of facilities for research and industry at Monash,” Professor Smith said. 

MCAM will be lending these strengths to the new Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Transforming Australia’s Manufacturing Industry through High Value Manufacturing, an Australian Research Council initiative. The hub, which launches later this week, will link Monash, Deakin University and the University of Queensland with industry partners to produce a range of 3D printed parts.

Professor Wu’s attention to date has been chiefly on aerospace, but she has recently been extending her research to the potential of 3D printing for producing made-to-measure surgical instruments and bio-medical implants. 

MCAM, AMAERO and the jet engine project are supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC), the CRC program, Commercialisation Australia, the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF), Monash University and Safran.