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Stealing the limelight at Australia’s International Air Show

The craze of 3D printing has seen the production of titanium hips, plastic bikinis, prosthetic hands – and even edible chocolate sculptures. But have you heard the one about the 3D-printed jet engine?

It’s true. Researchers from the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing (MCAM) unveiled their huge 3D-printed engine at the 2015 Australian International Air Show.

As part of the open-access Monash Technology Research Platforms (MTRP), the experts at MCAM love converting discoveries in metal sciences to real-world applications. It’s one of the few places in the world with the technology – and the necessary expertise in manufacturing and design – to engineer the precise microstructure and mechanical properties needed for 3D-printed aeroplane parts.

Working with CSIRO and Deakin University, the MCAM researchers are developing and using 3D printing to produce stronger, lighter and cheaper components. Head of MCAM, Professor Xinhua Wu, wants to put Australia at the forefront of the global aerospace industry by getting more out of 3D printing technology.

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

The advantages of 3D printing – also known as additive manufacturing – are many. Apart from wasting less material by building up layers of metal, rather than carving into a block, it’s also super-fast. Rather than taking years to produce engine components from a mould, a part can be made in just a week.

But it’s not just having access to the latest technology that puts MCAM’s 3D printing abilities ahead of the bunch. It’s the people behind the kit, who have deep knowledge of the materials, and the expertise to design and engineer materials that meet the exacting requirements of aerospace components.

And MCAM’s prototype engine, displayed last year at Australia’s premier air show, has top-level aerospace companies lining up at the door. For instance, MCAM is helping French aerospace group Safran make components lighter and cheaper than traditional ones, but retaining the high level of performance. Monash and its spin-out company, AMAERO Engineering, have also printed a second engine, currently on display at Safran in Toulouse, France.

MTRP’s open-access model has created the opportunity for MCAM to advance manufacturing opportunities for all Australian businesses – large and small. Monash Uni’s Professor Ian Smith, Vice Provost (Research and Research Infrastructure), says that Australia’s manufacturing industries need access to the latest technologies to stay competitive.

“As part of a large, integrated suite of facilities for research and industry at Monash, MCAM allows industry to rapidly prototype metal devices across a wide range of industries,” he says.