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3D printed steel tools to reduce cost for aerospace and defence manufacturers

Credit: RMIT University

Since the metals used in defence and aerospace are so strong, making high quality tools to cut them is a major and expensive challenge.

Time and money can be potentially saved by aerospace and defence manufacturers thanks to the high strength cutting tools that can now be 3D printed.

According to a recent press release, the collaborative project conducted at RMIT’s Advanced Manufacturing Precinct is the first convincing demonstration of 3D printed steel tools that can cut titanium alloy as well as, or in some cases better than, the conventional steel tools.

RMIT University PhD candidate Mr Jimmy Toton received the 2019 Young Defence Innovator Award and a A$ 15,000 prize for this research.

He conducted it together with the Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC) and an industry partner.

Background of the project

This research had proven what is possible. Therefore, the full potential of 3D printing can now be fully applied to this industry, where it could improve productivity and tool life while reducing cost.

The team’s high-performance steel milling cutters were made using Laser Metal Deposition technology, which works by feeding metal powder into a laser beam.

A 3D object is built layer by layer as the laser moves and the metal solidifies at the trailing edge.

Moreover, this additive manufacturing process allows for objects to be built with complex internal and external structures.

Benefits of the project

Manufacturers need to take full advantage of these new opportunities to become or remain competitive, especially in cases where manufacturing costs are high.

The DMTC Chief Executive Officer explained that the significance of productivity and cost-efficiency to Australian manufacturers should not be underestimated.

Supply chain innovations and advances such as improved tooling capability all add up to meeting performance benchmarks as well as positioning Australian companies to win work in local and global supply chains.

The costs of drills, milling cutters and other tooling over the life of major defence equipment contracts can run into the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.

This project opens the way to making these high-performing tools cheaper and faster in Australia.

The industry partner’s Technology Manager said that working with the PhD candidate was crucial in guaranteeing industry-relevant outcomes.

This project exemplifies the ethos of capability-building through industrial applied research, rather than just focusing on excellent research for its own sake.

Additive technology

Additive technology is rising globally and the project highlights a market where it can be applied to precisely because of the benefits that this technology offers over conventional manufacturing methods.

RMIT’s Advanced Manufacturing Precinct Director and the candidate’s supervisor found the work to be a clear demonstration of the technology’s potential.

OpenGov Asia earlier reported on biofabrication research to find better ways to 3D print body parts.

The goal of the research is to help patients who have lost a bone as a result of accidents, birth defects or diseases such as cancer.

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