Oct 19, 2017 | By Benedict

Charles Darwin University in Australia has started using its LIGHTSPEE3D metal 3D printer, built by Australian additive manufacturing company SPEE3D. Darwin’s machine is the first operational LIGHTSPEE3D printer in the world.

Steven Camilleri checks up on his creation, the LIGHTSPEE3D 3D printer

(Image: ABC Radio Darwin)

Back in July, we reported that Charles Darwin University had used a $313,000 government grant to get hold of a LIGHTSPEE3D metal 3D printer, a machine that can purportedly print metal parts 100 to 1,000 times faster than other printers.

That speedy metal 3D printer is now up and running, with the Australian university successfully printing its first batch of metal parts, including copper and aluminum pieces.

According to SPEE3D’s Steven Camilleri, the LIGHTSPEE3D isn’t just a faster SLM machine. Rather, it uses entirely different and strange-sounding principles.

“Instead of using a laser and heat to melt the metal powder and form the metal part—a very expensive and slow process—we use a rocket engine and deposit metal powders at extremely high velocity,” Camilleri explained.

The rocket engine causes the metal powders to travel at speeds of around a kilometer per second within a 400°C environment, before they hit a metal plate attached to a robotic arm, which moves as the part is built up.

This 3D printed flywheel took under 12 minutes to fabricate

(Image: ABC Radio Darwin)

“They splat on impact—that’s actually the industry term, splat—and they expand very suddenly and weld on because of the heat generated under those circumstances,” Camilleri said.

But even Camilleri is a little taken aback to see the 3D printer—which has a 300 x 300 x 300 mm build area—in full swing. After spending many years perfecting the technology, the engineer said he was “exhilarated” to see it in action at Darwin.

Darwin engineers were able to fabricate a copper flywheel using the 3D printer in less than 12 minutes. And with the part costing just $3.60 to make, those involved think the new metal 3D printer could put Darwin at the center of the area’s additive manufacturing scene.

“It'll bring innovation to Darwin and make it a leading partner in advanced manufacturing,” commented Rebecca Murray, director of Darwin’s Advanced Manufacturing Alliance.

Prototype of the LIGHTSPEE3D 3D printer

In particular, the university is eyeing prospective partners in mining, gas, and marine defense outstations, which often need complex metal parts out in remote locations. By 3D printing their spare and replacement parts, these partners wouldn’t need to keep extensive catalogues of components that may or may not be used.

“It harks back a bit to the days of having the blacksmith, where you had someone specialized in making parts right where you needed the parts," Camilleri said. “This is the kind of manufacturing time where you wouldn't even have to keep your parts in stock any more; you can make them when and where you need them.”



Posted in 3D Printer



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