Held alongside Austech 2019, UNLIMIT3D, a two-day conference on additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing, took place at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre (MCEC) from 14-15 May. Conference convener Alex Kingsbury describes some of the event’s highlights.

Sponsored by SYSPRO Australasia and the Additive Manufacturing Hub, UNLIMIT3D took an in-depth look at the industrialisation of AM, featuring presentations from people who have had deep involvement in implementing the technology for real-world production applications. Before a sold-out audience, a series of expert speakers shared their insights into the benefits of applying AM in a modern manufacturing setting, discussing the challenges that can arise, and importantly, how they were addressed.

Getting proceedings underway with the opening keynote address was Bruce McLean of The Barnes Group Advisors, an international AM consultancy based in Pittsburgh, US. With a global reputation as a technology and industrialisation specialist in electron beam melting, and a long track record in the aerospace sector, McLean had plenty of insights to share on what it takes to make a commercially viable business from AM.

“Many people buy a machine and just think they’re going to grow a viable business in additive manufacturing,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that; a machine needs supporting infrastructure, and the market needs to be developed before the investment is made.”

The next presenter represented one of the leading manufacturers of AM technology. Mitchell Beness is the regional Product Manager for HP’s 3D Printing & Digital Manufacturing division in the Asia-Pacific Japan (APJ) region. He described how HP works with global megatrends and outlined why they entered the 3D printing market with their own technology. Multi-jet Fusion has so far been used for many production parts, giving Beness many examples of businesses which have successfully integrated HP’s technology into their business to share with the audience.

While HP is one of the giants of the AM world, many breakthroughs in the field come from much smaller start-up ventures. One such example is Aurora Labs, a Perth-based outfit whose innovative Rapid Manufacturing Technology is making waves worldwide. Co-founder and Senior Printer Developer Jessica Snelling spoke about Aurora’s journey so far and its plans for the future.

After a short break, sessions resumed with the first panel discussion. As representatives of three highly innovative new Australian manufacturing businesses adopting AM, Kevin Hazlehurst of Conflux, Robert Thompson of Anatomics and James Woolcock of Bastion Cycles shared fascinating anecdotes on their respective journeys in applying both metal and polymer AM processes into their businesses. They described, step by step, why they are using AM, how they decided what machine to acquire, and then what steps they took to prepare and then utilise their machines.

They were followed by Lee Brindle, Business Manager – Additive Manufacturing at voestalpine High Performance Metals (Australia). As specialists in the production of high-performance steels and powder metallurgy products, voestalpine aims to become a leading producer of the metal powders that feed the AM industry. Brindle outlined compelling business cases where his company has used conformal cooling with AM for increased efficiency with high-pressure die castings.

The last of the morning sessions came from Dr Anna Paradowska, Industrial Liaison Manager at the Australian Centre for Neutron Scattering (ACNS), within Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). Dr Paradowska’s presentation addressed ways to build bridges between industry and academia, an issue of additional relevance when it comes to cutting-edge technology such as AM. Of ANSTO’s outreach she said: “We are opening the door for collaboration with industry and academia. The golden age for ANSTO is yet to come.”

Lunch gave the delegates time to explore the extensive 3D printing showcase on display at the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion within the Austech exhibition. Then the program resumed with Stefan Ritt, Head of Global Marketing at 3YOURMIND, which develops software for managing and optimising AM workflows. Ritt highlighted the software’s ability to automatically choose the best parts for AM production.

Ritt was followed by AMTIL’s own John Croft, Manager of the Additive Manufacturing Hub. The AM Hub is a collaborative venture run by AMTIL to provide an industry-driven network of organisations that will foster and grow the AM sector. Croft gave an outline of the Hub’s aims and activities, and shed light on how it could help ordinary manufacturing businesses.

After afternoon refreshments, the day was rounded off with a high energy pitch session for companies that are looking for 3D printing solutions and are seeking external help. Pitch session participants included: UAP, The Australian Army, LimeLite, Cobalt Design, and Trajan Scientific. Finally, after a packed first day, delegates had a chance to relax and network with their peers in a cocktail reception.

Proceedings on Day 2 of Unlimit3D got off to an outstanding start with Don Moloney from the Department of Defence. Working at Maritime Lifecycle Support within the Navy, Moloney has been a champion of AM, having implemented not only AM on land but also at sea. A fascinating look at how AM saved the Navy millions of dollars by having the capability to replace small parts at sea brought home how AM can revolutionise manufacturing.

“A 3D printer by itself is just a novelty,” said Moloney. “Supporting it and providing the relevant infrastructure is innovation, which ultimately leads to a manufacturing revolution.”

Moloney was followed by another of the big hitters in the supply of AM systems – SLM Solutions Group. Ralf Frowerk is Global Head of Business Development at SLM, a leading supplier of selective laser melting machines. Frowerk’s presentation gave a hint as to the future releases from SLM Solutions, including a proprietary SLM Solutions software package that eliminates STL files.

Next was Marlene Manson, AM Systems Engineer and Production Manager at Footwork Podiatric Laboratory. Podiatry is one sector where 3D printing is having a huge impact, and Footwork is one company taking the lead and embracing it. Manson showed video footage of every step in Footwork’s production process using HP’s Multi-jet Fusion 3D printing technology. From Manson’s presentation it was clear why AM was such a game-changer for orthotics.

Following a brief break for afternoon tea, Eric Barnes gave a final presentation for the day, on AM at Northrop Grumman. As an Additive Manufacturing Fellow, Barnes has led the development, implementation and strategy for polymer and metallic AM on multiple air and space projects at Northrop Grumman. Drawing on three decades of experience at the forefront of AM innovation, he offered an insider’s view on how a company like Northrop Grumman gets the most out of the technology, and the steps they need to take to ensure it is implemented safely.

After Barnes, there was just time for another pitch session which included talks from the likes of: Titomic, Design and Technology Company, and DI Design. A quote to summarise the day was given by Eric Teo of Reliance Worldwide – “It’s not about equipment, it’s about people and culture” – highlighting the main challenge for anyone looking to implement AM technology in their business.

Reflecting on his Unlimit3D experience, conference delegate Dr Leon Prentice remarked: “I really liked how there was a commercial focus to [the conference]. Getting the panel up was my highlight. Getting people to talk about how they’re turning AM into a commercial reality, from the challenges of running high-productivity machines, to managing powder, to quality control, we heard it all here at Unlimit3D.”

To adapt a phrase from a well-known politician, this was the conference Australia had to have. The AM industry in Australia is mature enough now that we have practical, commercial knowledge to share. The sooner the hype around 3D printing dies, the sooner we can get on with the business of helping others see how to best utilise this revolutionary technology. Additionally, as Convener of the conference, I got a strong sense of a friendly and welcoming atmosphere amongst speakers and participants. Everyone approached the event with an open and searching mind, looking to learn and to discover; and that my friends, is much better than a recession!