Aiming high: Australia makes world’s first 3D-printed jet engines

A handout photo taken and released on February 26, 2015 shows a 3D printed jet engine on display at the Avalon Airshow in Melbourne. (AFP Photo/Lydia Hale)
Australian researchers have created two jet engines using 3D printing, a breakthrough that proves the technology can create high-quality products from a variety of metals.

Using a gas turbine engine as a template, researchers from Melbourne's Monash University, and staff from the CSIRO and Deakin University, congratulated themselves for successfully printing an “aircraft quality” product, which could revolutionize the way aircraft are built in the future.

"The significance... is the recognition by major manufacturers and engineering companies like Safran and Airbus that the material you can print using 3D metal printing is of aircraft quality and I think that's hugely significant," Monash university's vice provost for research, Ian Smith, told AFP.

"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."

3D printing can slash production times from three months to just six days, researchers say.

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Xinhua Wu, director of the Monash center for additive manufacturing, said her team tediously scanned the separate parts of the template engine, with the project taking about one year to finish.

One of the jet engines is on display at the Australian International Airshow in Melbourne with the other being featured in Toulouse at the French aerospace company Microturbo.

Smith predicted the new technology could be used to build a variety of customized parts quickly and cheaply, specifically in the field of medicine.

"Where we see some of the big opportunities are in the medical space where you can make bespoke parts for the body – replacement joints and hips designed specifically for that individual," he said.

"A lot of surgeons want to make their own instruments that are customized for them or a particular surgical procedure."

Engineers at Monash University have teamed up Amaero Engineering, the private company established by Monash to deliver the product to market. The Monash-led research group is making top-secret prototypes for Boeing, Airbus, Raytheon and Safran in a move that could be the “savior of Australia's struggling manufacturing sector,” Reuters reported.

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"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, CEO of Amaero Engineering.

Marriott said his company wants the 3D-printed engine components in flight tests within the next year and licensed for commercial application within the next two to three years.

Australia, which has one of only three large-format 3D metal printers in the world (France and Germany have the others) is in a position to corner the market on the new technology, providing a much-needed boost to its economy.

Market researcher Gartner forecast in 2014 that global spending on 3D printing will surge from $1.6 billion in 2015 to about $13.4 billion in 2018.

Around since the 1980s, products created by 3D printing technology have included everything from bikinis to assault weapons.