Charles Darwin University (CDU) engineering researchers together with SPEE3D have achieved a major milestone with the production of a part suitable for use on the Royal Australian Navy’s Armidale class patrol boats.
Using the LightSPEE3D printer’s cold spray technology, the Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (AMA) has been able to produce a part to meet stringent military specifications.
The AMA has produced an aluminium camlock, which is used to attach hoses together and attach them to equipment such as pumps, as a demonstration of the capacity of its 3D printing technology.
Director of the CDU based AMA, Dr Rebecca Murray said the 3D printing technology was ideally suited to producing parts that are used not only by the Navy but also the oil and gas industry.
“Being able to rapidly manufacture something that meets the standards for use in an environment such as a patrol boat demonstrates that we can produce items at least as good as, and possibly better than, old-fashioned casting techniques,” she said.
“Our work has demonstrated to the Navy that we can build one of these fittings quicker than a replacement can be taken off a shelf down south and relocated to Darwin where it might be needed to keep a patrol boat operational,” Dr Murray said.
She said she believed the scope for 3D printing technology was almost limitless.
Dr Murray said being able to produce a part onsite with a 3D printer has huge scope within the resources industry and other areas of the military.
“Traditional casting of this nature is slow, tends only to be done in larges batches and the companies that do are thousands of kilometres away.
“Now it has been demonstrated that we can manufacture parts to the specifications required by the Navy, there are vast applications for 3D printing technology to be used to support resource operations through the manufacture of parts on site,” she said.
With this potential in mind, AMA has been working towards a digital system to control the manufacturing process as well as researching the actual printing itself.
The aim is to devise a software package that means identical parts can be produced by similar printer technology by using what is effectively a digital recipe.
Dr Murray said the recipe essentially drives the manufacturing process, meaning a part can be produced just about anywhere.
“Certainly much closer than where it’s produced now in terms of the Navy and oil and gas exploration. Our printer operates in a room of about 15 square metres. Something similar could be replicated just about anywhere.
“The ability to produce parts on the spot can reduce inventory costs because fewer parts have to be kept on hand. Even in the event of an unexpected failure, a part like the Navy’s camlock can be produced in less than a day.”
Researchers also have had to find a pathway to get parts made by a 3D printer to be certified to standards such as the International Standards Organisation.
Many of the standards and accreditations stipulate certain manufacturing processes that are recognised as capable of producing parts that will meet certain requirements such as pressure.
“We needed to be able to convince standards organisations that 3D printing was capable to producing a part with the same characteristics as traditional casting,” Dr Murray said.
“Certification is a vital piece of the puzzle because it provides confidence in quality which is especially important for a part in a machine that can be worth millions of dollars. For 3D printing to be regarded as a viable process, we had to demonstrate its output can meet the certification standards.”
The Navy put the camlock through its paces onboard the HMAS Broome where it was found to perform the same as a traditional cast unit, passing all functionality tests.
Dr Murray said the demonstration of this new manufacturing process only took about six months to prove up.
“In late May, the Advanced Manufacturing Alliance started working with the Navy on identifying a part that could be produced in the printer to determine if it could manufacture something that was up to the grade,” she said.
“The camlock was settled on as the ideal part through a simple process because they had a spare that we could take away with us and recreate.
“Roughly six months later we have successfully designed and manufactured a camlock that performs as well as the standard version.
“In the process we may just have opened up a new industry for the Northern Territory in the manufacture of parts to supply the military and resources industry and developed technology that one day may well be used around the world,” Dr Murray said.
The AMA is an open alliance founded by the Darwin-based start-up company that invented the printer, SPEE3D, and CDU. The Alliance aims to build a user base through local and global business members, and to collaborate with global research networks in advanced manufacturing.