UNSW Sydney students and staff have been handed a unique opportunity to help further develop the application of additive manufacturing with the arrival of a sophisticated metal 3D printing machine under an initiative by global digital industrial company GE. The company’s GE Additive division formally unveiled the $350,000 Concept Laser Mlab Cusing 200R machine at UNSW’s School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering (MME) in December.

GE is investing US$10m globally over the next five years to create a pipeline of additive manufacturing experts to accelerate advanced manufacturing under its Additive Education Program. A hand-picked team of GE specialists evaluated and selected eight universities to receive the 3D printing equipment, with UNSW the only recipient outside the US.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for GE to partner with UNSW and continue to grow the design possibilities for Australian engineers,” said Max York, GE’s CEO for Australia. “This collaboration will help UNSW and GE to take the lead in fostering the next generation of additive manufacturing technology in Australia.”

Tom Gleeson, General Manager for Global Sales at GE Additive added: “That UNSW would be selected from 250 college and university applications under the GE Additive Education Program worldwide shows that Australian university students are punching above their weight when it comes to advancements in additive manufacturing.”

The Concept Laser Mlab Cusing 200R machine is a laser powder-bed fusion system designed to manufacture metal components with elaborate structures and parts made from reactive materials like titanium. It is ideally suited to fine detail, high-quality surface finish, and precision component structures. It will be used for the following research areas at the frontier of additive manufacturing:

  • Final part production and improvement of tolerances and surface finish.
  • Design and development of new materials, including light-weight and low-cost materials, suitable for additive manufacturing.
  • Design, optimisation and fabrication of various metal parts with functional gradient microstructure, complex geometry or optimised topology design.
  • Simulation of the additive manufacturing process to understand and improve the manufacturing process.

The Mlab will be housed in a designed-for-purpose environment, due for completion in early 2018, and forms MME’s foundation technology for a host of research and education initiatives. In the second half of 2018, UNSW will offer one of the first university-level courses in additive manufacturing in Australia. Its priority is to address the gap in printable-design thinking. Professor Chun Wang, Head of the UNSW MME, said the new Concept Laser Mlab Cusing 200R machine would greatly enhance education and research in additive manufacturing at UNSW.

“Students will be able to use this machine in a newly created course in additive manufacturing technology,” said Wang. “In research, this machine will enable collaborative research between Engineering and Medicine to develop novel spinal fusion devices to overcome the current clinical problem of poor bone ingrowth into fusion devices, for example.”

How manufacturers might use multiple lasers within the same printer for optimising the quality of 3D printed products is a question MME hopes to address with a research grant from the Australian Government’s Defence, Science and Technology Group. The UNSW team is also partnering with Stanford University to investigate nano-structure and micro-scale defects in critical products such as medical devices and aviation components.

“MME has a great track record in additive manufacturing research and a strong vision of future research associated with a manufacturing process that will both disrupt and complement traditional manufacturing processes,” addedWang.

Professor Wang envisages Australia ultimately as an exporter of additive engineering know-how: “If we develop in-country novel technologies in terms of processes that deliver better properties, and new technology to interrogate 3D structures for quality assurance, these can be exported as engineering services.”

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor Enterprise Professor Brian Boyle said: “The development of this kind of technology has created huge potential for the manufacture of a wide range of components and devices in different industries and UNSW is pleased to be able to work with GE in this rapidly expanding field.”

GE is set to open its second round of applications, inviting universities to put revolutionary 3D thinking into practice in the first quarter of 2018.

“We want a pipeline of engineering talent that have additive in their DNA. This education program is our way of supporting that goal,” said Mohammad Ehteshami, Vice-President of GE Additive.