SYDNEY – Australian researchers unveiled the world’s first two jet engines created with 3-D printing on Thursday, a manufacturing breakthrough that could lead to cheaper, lighter and more fuel-efficient jets.
Engineers at Monash University and its commercial arm are making top-secret prototypes for Boeing Co. Airbus Group NV, Raytheon Co. and Safran SA in a development that could be the savior of Australia’s struggling manufacturing sector.
“This will allow aerospace companies to compress their development cycles because we are making these prototype engines three or four times faster than normal,” said Simon Marriott, chief executive of Amaero Engineering, the private company set up by Monash to commercialize the product.
Marriott said Amaero plans to have printed engine components in flight tests within the next 12 months and to get them certified for commercial use within the next two to three years.
Ian Smith, Monash’s vice provost for research, said: “It’s a disruptive technology. We’ve seen a lot happening in the plastics and polymer space, but this is exciting because it’s now metals and light metals and things like titanium, nickel and aluminum.”
Australia has the potential to corner the market. It has one of only three of the necessary large-format 3-D metal printers in the world — France and Germany have the other two — and is the only place that makes the materials for use in the machine.
It is also the world leader in terms of intellectual property regarding 3-D printing for manufacturing.
“We have personnel that have 10 years’ experience on this equipment, and that gives us a huge advantage,” Marriott said at the Avalon Airshow outside Melbourne.
Marriott declined to comment in detail on Amaero’s contracts with companies. Those contracts are expected to pay in part for the building of further large-format printers, at a cost of around 3.5 million Australian dollars ($2.75 million) each, to ramp up production of jet engine components.
3-D printing makes products by layering material until a three-dimensional object is created. Automotive and aerospace companies use it for producing prototypes as well as creating specialized tools, moldings and some end-use parts.
3-D printing can cut production times for components from three months to just six days.