Laser 3D printing process creates plane parts on the fly
Image credit: rmit
Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne have been using laser metal-deposition technology to build and repair defence aircraft in a process that’s similar to 3D printing.
The technology feeds metal powder into a laser beam, which when scanned across a surface adds new material in a precise, web-like formation. The metallurgical bond created has mechanical properties similar, or in some cases superior, to those of the original material.
The team believes the technology could be “game-changing” for the aviation industry
“It’s basically a very high-tech welding process where we make or rebuild metal parts layer by layer,” said Professor Milan Brandt who is working on the project.
He said the concept is proven and prospects for its successful development are extremely positive.
Head of Research and Technology at RUAG Australia, Neil Matthews, says that by enabling onsite repair and production of parts, the technology could completely transform the concept of warehousing and transporting for defence and other industries. Currently, replacement parts typically need to be transported from local or overseas storage and suppliers.
“Instead of waiting for spare parts to arrive from a warehouse, an effective solution will now be on-site,” said RUAG Australia’s research head Neil Matthews who is collaborating with RMIT on the project.
“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 technology is also being adopted in RUAG’s recently established robotic laser additive manufacturing cell.
A move to locally printed components could mean big savings on maintenance and spare part purchasing, scrap metal management, warehousing and shipping costs, the researchers said.
An independent review, commissioned by BAE Systems, estimated the cost of replacing damaged aircraft components to be in excess of $230m a year for the Australian Air Force.
CEO of Australian research hub IMCRC, David Chuter, said that application of this technology will be much broader than defence.
“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 said.
“In fact, this could potentially be applied in any industry where metal degradation or remanufacture of parts is an issue.”