Credit: RMIT University

Credit: RMIT University

RMIT University forms research collaboration to produce aircraft parts by 3D printing

An announcement made by the RMIT University highlighted the research project it is currently working on that would allow for building and repairing steel and titanium parts for defence force aircrafts. 

The university is collaborating with RUAG Australia and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC).

Professor Milan Brandt leads a team of RMIT researchers who are using ‘laser metal deposition’ technology for building and repairing steel and titanium parts.

The parts being built and repaired are for defence force aircrafts which they are working on in collaboration with RUAG Australia and the IMCRC.

Metal powder is first fed into a laser beam, which is then scanned across a surface in order to add new material in a precise, web-like formation.

This technology can be used to 3D print parts from scratch or to fix existing parts with a bond that is as strong as, or possibly even stronger, than the original.  

Professor Blandt explained, “It’s basically a very high-tech welding process where we make or rebuild metal parts layer by layer.”

He added that the concept is proven and prospects for its successful development are extremely positive.

Research and Technology Head at RUAG Australia Mr Neil Matthews said that the technology could completely transform the concept of warehousing and transporting for defence and other industries.

This technology provides on the spot creation and repair as parts could just be built and repaired onsite whereas in the current process, replacement parts require storage before being transported where the parts are needed.

Mr Mattews added, “Instead of waiting for spare parts to arrive from a warehouse, an effective solution will now be on-site.”

He explained, “For defence forces this means less downtime for repairs and a dramatic increase in the availability and readiness of aircraft.”

The technology will apply to existing legacy aircraft as well as the new F35 fleet. The move to locally printed components is expected to save money on maintenance and spare part purchasing, scrap metal management, warehousing and shipping costs.

In an independent review commissioned by BAE Systems, findings showed that an estimated cost of more than A$230 million a year for the Australian Air Force is spent replacing damaged aircraft parts. 

IMCRC CEO and Managing Director Mr David Chuter believes the technology can also be applied in other industries. He said, “The project’s benefits to Australian industry are significant. Although the current project focuses on military aircraft, it is potentially transferable to civil aircraft, marine, rail, mining, oil and gas industries."

He added, "In fact, this could potentially be applied in any industry where metal degradation or remanufacture of parts is an issue.”

The two-year project is the latest in a series of collaborations over the past decade between Professor Brandt, the Director of RMIT’s Centre for Additive Manufacturing and a leading expert in the field and RUAG Australia.

Professor Brandt concluded, “As the leading Australian research organisation in this technology, we are confident of being able to deliver a cost-effective solution that fulfils a real need for defence and other industries.”

RUAG Australia promises excellent support and service to the Defence and Aerospace markets, combining engineering expertise and exceptional levels of subject matter knowledge with fully-accredited manufacturing, maintenance, repair and overhaul capabilities.

IMCRC is a cooperative research centre that helps Australian companies increase their global relevance through research-led innovation in manufacturing products, processes and services.

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