Laser additive manufacturing in Australia

Milan Brandt

Manufacturing industries make a significant contribution to Australia's economy and directly employ some 10% of the workforce. These industries also drive skills development across other sectors and provide major markets for service businesses. The state of Victoria is the center for manufacturing in Australia, and its areas of strength include food processing, aerospace, automotive, textile, clothing, footwear, and information and communications technology, which are all major contributors to jobs and export growth.

Status of Australian manufacturing

Manufacturing industries in the Commonwealth of Australia and in Victoria, in particular, have been facing a number of significant challenges over the last few years due to the increasing global competition and imports of relatively cheap goods from overseas, mainly from China. This has contributed to many companies closing operations locally and moving production off-shore.

Figure 1. Location of laser-based additive technology in Australia as of the end of 2013.

The Commonwealth and Victorian governments have been looking into initiatives to support jobs and the future of manufacturing in Australia. Advanced technology and research are seen as critical elements in addressing some of these challenges to deliver cost competitive approaches to manufacturing for the companies to remain profitable and in business. Additive manufacturing (AM) is seen as one technology that could boost local manufacturing because of the many benefits it offers compared to traditional manufacturing. With additive technologies, both polymer and metal parts can be built directly from computer models or from measurements of existing components to be re-engineered, and therefore bypass traditional manufacturing processes such as cutting, milling, and grinding. Benefits include: 1) new designs not possible using conventional subtractive technology, 2) dramatic savings in time, materials, wastage, energy, and other costs in producing new components, 3) significant reductions in environmental impact, and 4) faster time-to-market for products.

Involved organizations

AM has seen significant exposure in Australia in the last few years through major exhibitions, workshops, and promotions by organizations such as the Australian Manufacturing Technology Institute Ltd. (AMTIL) in Wantirna, Victoria; RMIT University's Advanced Manufacturing Precinct (AMP) in Melbourne, Victoria; University of Wollongong's Intelligent Polymer Research Institute in Wollongong, New South Wales; Monash University's Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing in Melbourne; and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Clayton, Victoria.

Australian industry has been aware of laser cladding technology since early 2000, with four companies -- Hardchrome Engineering and Brenco in Melbourne; Jarvie Engineering in Newcastle; and Laser Bond in Sydney -- providing laser cladding services to the mining, manufacturing, and power industries. However, there was limited exposure and adoption of the other laser additive technology, selective laser melting (SLM). This has been partly due to the lack of service bureaus and research infrastructure that would enable access to the latest laser AM technology and expertise. However, this lack was addressed in 2011 and 2012 through the establishment of several new laser additive research facilities, predominantly in Victoria. The new facilities involve laser systems from Trumpf, EOS, and Concept Laser at the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing and Trumpf and SLM Solutions systems at RMIT's AMP. These systems will certainly play a major role in the future, helping local industry better understand the issues and capabilities associated with metal AM technology. A list of organizations with laser additive technology and their locations at the end of 2013 is shown in TABLE 1 and FIGURE 1.

Table 1: Lasers and systems for additive manufacturing

Research Institutions

Systems and Lasers

Qty

Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria

Trumpf system

1

 

Concept Laser X line 1000R

1

 

EOS (280)

1

RMIT University, Melbourne, Victoria

SLM 250HL

1

 

Trumpf system

1

Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria

SLM 125

1

Swinburne University, Melbourne, Victoria

Trumpf POM DMD

1

University of Western Australia (UWA), Perth, Western Australia

ReaLizer 100

1

University of Wollongong, Wollongong, New South Wales

ReaLizer 50

1

CSIRO, Melbourne, Victoria

Laserline

1

Government Institution

   

Department of Defence, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

SLM 250

1

Commercial Institutions

   

Race Dental, Sydney, New South Wales

EOS 250

1

Breasight, Sydney, New South Wales

EOS 250

2

Amaero, Melbourne, Victoria,

EOS 280 (On order)

1

Hardchrome Engineering, Melbourne, Victoria

IPG and Laserline

2

Brenco, Melbourne, Victoria

Laserline

1

Jarvie, Newcastle, New South Wales

Laserline and Rofin

2

LaserBond, Sydney, New South Wales

Laserline and Rofin

2

In addition, discussions started in 2013 between several industry and research organizations to establish a national center with a strong focus on AM. This is being coordinated and driven by the Advanced Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (AMCRC), which is seeking second-round funding. The CRC program is an Australian government initiative that is administered by the Department of Industry to support end-user-driven research collaborations. If an AM-specific CRC can be successfully established in 2014, the combined collection of physical resources and intellect would go a long way in helping Australian manufacturers adopt laser and other AM technologies as part of their mainstream production activities.

Figure 2. An aerotype component (left) as machined from a Ti64 billet and (right) after topology optimization and SLM manufacture. (Courtesy: RMIT's AMP)

Australian R&D activities in laser AM

The two major groups in Australia engaged full time in the research and development of both new additive applications and laser materials processing in general are based at the RMIT's AMP and the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing. The groups complement each other and have informal collaborations. The RMIT AMP is a $25 million dollar facility established to assist the manufacturing industry to compete in global manufacturing markets.

Figure 3. Aero components: (left) casing with internal diffusers and (right) an engine component. (Courtesy: Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing)

The AMP's overall aim is to enhance and develop new sustainable products and skills using state-of-the-art equipment and manufacturing techniques. It brings together research, design, and advanced manufacturing in one location, opening the doors to new opportunities for innovation and product development, prototyping, and rapid and additive manufacturing for industry. It also provides a vital hub for RMIT's industry engagement, which revolves around multiple industry sectors and areas of strength.

The additive manufacturing equipment at the AMP includes the latest in both polymer and laser-based additive technologies and represents a one-stop shop for companies interested in exploring and developing new products based on additive technology. The key research areas in laser AM are topology optimization and materials development and processing. The targeted industries are aerospace and biomedicine. An example of an aero component made from Ti64 that has been topologically optimized for AM is shown in FIGURE 2. This project was supported by the Defense Materials Technology Centre, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, and Lockheed Martin.

The Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing takes fundamental research in material science, alloy design, and processing and applies it to laser additive manufacturing of parts and components. The focus is very much on the aerospace industry, and the Centre has attracted overseas and local organizations as partners. The Centre recently spun-off a company, Amaero Engineering, which specializes in the manufacture of metallic components by both SLM and laser metal deposition techniques. Some of the aero components Amaero manufactured from a nickel alloy are shown in FIGURE 3.

Summary

Laser additive manufacturing in Australia is seeing growth and diversification, and this trend will continue, driven by several factors such as the need for local companies to diversify their operations and move away from high-cost, labor-intensive manufacture, better industry awareness of laser additive technology's capabilities, and an increased trend by their overseas competitors exploring this technology. The R&D base in the area has also been expanding, and the establishment of a national center in 2014 through the Advanced Manufacturing CRC with a focus on AM will further accelerate this growth as the industry partners become more familiar with
and adopt laser additive technology in their factories.

Milan Brandt (milan.brandt@rmit.edu.au) is professor of advanced manufacturing and technical director, Advanced Manufacturing Precinct, at RMIT University, Victoria, Australia.

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