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Building a 3D Printed Jet Engine

16 February 2016

In a world first, Australian researchers at Monash University spin-off Amaero Engineering have built a jet engine using advanced 3D printing technology. The breakthrough will lead to cheaper, lighter and more fuel-efficient aircraft. The development has been announced by Professor Ian Smith from Monash University.

The technology allows the production of assembly ready components that can be used for proof of concept allowing jet engine designs to be tested in working prototypes in a fraction of the time currently required. The technology is being commercialised by Amaero Engineering. Amaero Engineering Pty Ltd manufactures complex metallic components by laser-based additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, from CAD files.

Professor Smith said he believed Monash was well placed to take advantage of the technology because the university made the materials as well as printing the parts. “We’re the only centre [in the world] that’s developed the materials that go into the printers, so we can make stuff of sufficient quality,” he said.

“That’s why the French aerospace industry and large companies like Safran, Microturbo and Airbus are wanting to work with Monash and work with Australian companies.”

Video: Dr Robert Hobbs explains the benefits of 3D printing (ABC News)

Amaero uses two techniques – Powder Bed Selective Laser Sintering (also known as 3D printing) and Blown Powder Laser Melting. Its Powder Bed facility has the largest build volume in the world (up to 630mm x 400mm x 500mm high). The versatility of Amero Engineering’s 3D printing technology lies in its ability to print using robust final assembly ready materials (for example metal alloys) rather than model grade plastic.

There are a number of variations to the generic term ‘additive manufacturing’ with each machine builder giving their own name to their particular version of the technology. Direct Metal Laser Sintering and similar technologies are being developed globally in a race to revolutionise CAD/CAM manufacturing of bespoke components that require very little or no further treatment before being pressed into service.

EOS Electro Optical Systems GmbH, based in Krailling, near Munich, Germany, is probably the largest supplier of equipment for this sector having delivered more than 290 ‘Direct Metal Laser Sintering’ (DMLS) machines worldwide over the past 10 years.

3D printing is even being applied to the construction industry.  Concrete Printing Process developed at Loughborough University in the UK is capable of producing building components with a degree of customisation that has not yet been seen. It could create a new era of architecture that is adapted to the environment and fully integrated with engineering function. The technology has ready application to many other fields and Professor Smith cited an example of manufacturing human prosthesis so rapidly that a surgical team could begin an operation, remove a damaged bone and make a prosthetic replacement within a short enough time frame to then install back into the injured person.

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