For droves of people who grew up in the 1980s and 90s, 3D technology elicits nostalgic memories of totally cool stickers and movie viewing innovation, but today’s generation sees the concept in an entirely new light. At the forefront of this movement is the research team from Australia’s Monash University in collaboration with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Deakin University of Victoria, all acting on a challenge handed down by France-based aerospace frontrunner, Safran (Microturbo).
The result of their efforts, unveiled in February 2015, is the world’s inaugural 3D-printed jet engine, a development promising to alter the landscape of the manufacturing world. As the first of its kind produced entirely via the additive manufacturing process, the initial prototype was a year in the making; however, the second was taken from concept to completion in only 3 months. One is presently on exhibit at Safran, while the other is featured at Australia’s own International Air Show in Avalon.
Headed by Professor Xinhua Wu, the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing Material’s Engineering Director, Team Monash will circulate their discoveries among the masses via a private company of the university’s own creation dubbed Amaero Engineering.
“Xinhua and her Monash team have demonstrated their mastery of additive manufacturing in metal,” shared Jean-François Rideau, head of Safran’s Research and Technology Division.“The partnership with Safran is a success story that was recognized last year when Safran gave the team its Prize ‘Innovation for Product and Technology’ for the excellent work carried out in partnership with Microturbo and the University of Birmingham. Monash and Amaero are already key partners for our new developments and we are keen to have their help in developing new technologies for our future engines,” Amaero CEO Simon Marriott noted that “This will allow aerospace companies to compress their development cycles because we are making these prototype engines three or four times faster than normal.”
“The project is a spectacular proof of concept that’s leading to significant contracts with aerospace companies,” Ben Batagol, Business Development Manager of Amaero, added.
While specifics of these contracts have yet to be released to the public, industry leaders Boeing and Airbus are said to be among those offering up millions to foster further developments.
“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,” stated Monash University’s Vice Provost for Research and Research Infrastructure, Professor Ian Smith, in regard to the project and its progression at the Monash Center for Additive Manufacturing.
Globally, only three of the 3D printers needed for undertakings of this magnitude exist; Australia holds one of those. Considering this along with their dominance of the process, the nation holds a considerable advantage in this sector. Flight testing of 3D-printed jet engines is scheduled to begin later this year with commercial distribution projected in as little as two years.
Although jet engine manufacturing is the current focus of such technology, its potential spans a number of markets including the medical field. Current worldwide spending on 3D printing lingers at just over $1.5 billion, but market research firm Gartner predicts this figure will exceed $13 billion over the next three years as possibilities are further explored. This could be considered one of the most significant aerospace breakthroughs in modern history and promises to be the considerable advancement in manufacturing Australia has been seeking to help enhance its economy.