3D aircraft parts can now be built or repaired to order as a result of cutting-edge technology developed by engineering researchers at RMIT University, RUAG Australia and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC).
Moreover, the 3D-built or repaired steel and titanium parts are as strong, if not stronger, than the original, according to RMIT.
Led by Professor Milan Brandt from the Manufacturing, Materials and Mechatronics Department in the Engineering Cluster, the team uses laser metal deposition technology.
“It works by feeding metal powder into a laser beam, which is scanned across a surface to add new material in a precise, web-like formation,” Brandt explained.
“It’s basically a very high-tech welding process where we make or rebuild metal parts layer by layer.”
He said the concept is proven and its prospects for successful development are “extremely positive”.
RUAG Australia‘s head of research and technology, Neil Matthews, revealed the technology could “completely transform” warehousing and transportation for the defence sector and other industries.
At present, replacement parts require storage before being transported to where they’re needed, but this made-to-order technology means parts could be built or repaired onsite.
“For defence forces this means less downtime for repairs and a dramatic increase in the availability and readiness of aircraft,” Matthews said, adding the technology applies to existing aircraft as well as the new F35s.
The move to locally printed components is expected to save millions on maintenance and spare part purchasing, scrap metal management, warehousing and shipping costs, the research team said.
An independent review, commissioned by BAE Systems, estimated the cost of replacing damaged aircraft parts to be more than $230 million annually for the Australian Air Force.
IMCRC CEO and MD, David Chuter, described the project’s benefits as “significant’ and believes the technology can also be applied to other industries.
“Although the current project focuses on military aircraft, it is potentially transferable to civil aircraft, marine, rail, mining, oil and gas industries,” he said.
Chuter explained further that this could apply to any industry where metal degradation or remanufacture of parts is an issue.