Jun 29, 2018 | By Thomas

A team of researchers from Australia’s RMIT University is using ‘laser metal deposition’ technology to build and repair steel and titanium parts for defence force aircraft under a two-year project.

Engineers testing new laser-made aircraft parts on a fighter jet. Credit: RUAG Australia

Led by professor Milan Brandt, the RMIT team is working in collaboration with RUAG Australia and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC).

The technology 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. It can be used to 3D print parts from scratch or to fix existing parts with a bond that is as strong as, or in some cases stronger, than the original.  

"It's basically a very high tech welding process where we make or rebuild metal parts layer by layer," explains Brandt, who says 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," says Matthews. "For defence forces this means less downtime for repairs and a dramatic increase in the availability and readiness of aircraft."

The technology can be used to build and repair steel and titanium parts for both existing aircraft such as the Air Force's F/A-18 Hornet and F/A-18F/G Super Hornet and Growler fleets, and the new fifth generation F-35 fleet.

According to RMIT, locally printed components would possibly save money on maintenance and spare part procurement, scrap metal management, warehousing and shipping costs.

An independent review, commissioned by BAE Systems, estimated the cost of replacing damaged aircraft components to be in excess of $230 million a year for the Australian Air Force.

CEO and Managing Director of the IMCRC, David Chuter, believes 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," says Chuter.

"In fact, this could potentially be applied in any industry where metal degradation or remanufacture of parts is an issue."



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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