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3D printing of energetics to advance Australia’s defence

According to Australia’s Defence Scientist Andrew Hart, advances in energetic materials together with cutting edge manufacturing technology that can exploit those materials will see the introduction into service of new classes of weapons within the next decade or so.

As reported, the Transformative Energetics Research Program has three key planks: nano-scale energetic materials, resonant acoustic mixing (RAM) and 3D printing of energetics.

Initiated by Australia’s Defence Science and Technology, it will position the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the Australian defence industry to take full advantage of the technical benefits.

The new classes of weapons are set to offer disruptive performance gains and a level of operational flexibility that is unachievable at the moment.

Tiny particles, big potential

Nano-particles typically display properties that differ markedly from larger forms of the same material. They give rise to munitions that offer enhanced energy output with reduced sensitivity.

A plethora of design options can be produced from it such as lighter weapons, additional space for other weapon components, and the use of explosive artillery in previously inaccessible extreme operational environments.

Resonant Acoustic Mixing

RAM is a relatively new technique that uses low-frequency, high-intensity vibration to blend highly viscous materials rapidly and effectively.

It is a contactless mixing technique where there are no moving parts in contact with the energetic material. This technique confers process safety benefits.

It allows the potential to incorporate a higher proportion of high energy-density solids, including hard to process materials such as nano-energetics, into the materials.

This gives additional energy into the system, beyond that which has been possible historically with conventional processing technology.

3D printing of energetic materials

The scientist, who is a chemical engineer, has observed a significant increase in interest around the world in the 3D printing of energetic materials over the past 4-5 years.

There is such a strong interest because the performance gains that stand to be unlocked are astounding.

3D printing allows the creation of complex and truly three dimensional structures that give superior control over the nature of the energy release.

The smaller manufacturing footprint required by 3D printing, and the agile nature of the same, means energetic materials might ultimately be produced, for example, on demand in theatre, bringing to bear significant strategic and logistic advantages.

To date, a focus at DST has been on the possibility of printing large calibre gun propellants because it is through this that some of the greatest performance and logistic advantages can be unlocked.

Requiring a collaborative approach

The Transformative Energetics program is broad in scope and highly multi-disciplinary in nature, thereby requiring a collaborative approach.

Doing so will expedite the research and position the defence industry to adopt the manufacturing technologies once matured.

They are teaming up with industry and academia in a multi-year Cooperative Research Centre project looking at the 3D printing of energetics, have industry alliances in the area of RAM, and collaborate with Defence government partners across all facets of DST’s Transformative Energetics program.

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