There has been a real sense of excitement surrounding the world’s first 3D printed jet engine, on display at the Avalon Airshow.
The printed engine at the show has been produced by Monash University researchers, working in collaboration with CSIRO and Deakin University.
But what does the future hold for this technology – already widely touted as the way of the future across the whole engineering sphere – in the aerospace realm?
The Australian Aviation spoke to Simon Marriott, managing director of Amaero Additive Manufacturing, the specialist engineering company created by Monash University to make the technology available to Australian industry.
Marriot first looked at the compelling present potential for 3D printing technology: “At the moment, 3D printing is finding applications in high-value products: aerospace and medical are two industries that are making lots of advances with this technology. However, people are really looking forward to the point where it becomes the ‘third industrial revolution’.
“But that revolution will only take place when manufacturers embrace additive manufacturing with their existing manufacturing technologies, such as casting, machining and fabrication.
“When this is introduced into existing process lines and production facilities, we’ll see an acceleration of the technology into other industries, such as automotive, consumer electronics and IT products.”
But how long will it be until we see 3D printed jet engines on aviation engine-makers’ production lines, powering commercial and military aircraft?
“It’s certainly at the forefront of engine manufacturers’ thinking. The French aerospace group Microturbo (Safran), based in Toulouse has been very proactive in looking at how additive manufacturing could transform its business model over the next five to 10 years,” Marriot said.
“With aerospace components, there’s an extremely detailed and extended certification and qualification process that needs to be adhered to before components are certified for flight.
“Over the next five years, we will see pretty much all the manufacturers of aerospace components, both airframe and engine, exploring and experimenting with additive engineering to produce flight-ready components.”
Given that, what’s the extent of interest from the corridors of power in Canberra? The Monash Centre for Additive Engineering, Amaero and the jet engine project have been supported by the government through the Australian Research Council, Commercialisation Australia, the Science and industry Endowment Fund, Safran and other bodies.
Marriot points out: “There’s a lot of Australian government interest at research and production levels in what additive engineering can do for new development programs but also for maintenance of existing equipment such as high-wear components including bearing housings and rotor shafts, which could be repaired to a very high level then brought back into service very quickly.”
Asked about the potential for joint ventures with aerospace companies, Marriott says: “Amaero has a range of relationships with aerospace manufacturers and while those relationships are at a design and development level for prototyping, there are opportunities for further partnerships and much deeper collaboration.”
Pointing to this, Monash University’s research chief Professor Ian Smith says: “The project is spectacular proof of concept that’s leading to significant contacts with aerospace companies. Australia’s manufacturing industries need access to the latest technologies to stay competitive.”