A $32 million revamp of testing and fabrication facilities has strengthened Defence’s engineering capability and reinvigorated its ability to collaborate with industry and academia.
The Australia-wide Capital Refresh Program, led by the Research Engineering team from Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), will give Australian researchers ready access to centralised high-end fabrication and test equipment.
Program leader Ben Barona said the refresh of ageing infrastructure focused on modernising and strengthening existing fabrication equipment at DSTG sites and procuring new fabrication and test equipment.
“The aim of the project was to provide targeted, specialised onsite capability at each DSTG site across the country,” Mr Barona said.
New and upgraded capabilities include enhanced metal additive manufacturing, precision optics fabrication and metrology, and large-scale vibration testing. These capabilities pave the way for advancements in critical areas such as space optics, hypersonics and complex rapid prototyping.
Investing in disruptive development
The project team’s engagement with stakeholders and working groups reinforced that, while investment in the refresh program gave a much-needed uplift to ageing infrastructure, ongoing investment in this area was critical to the ADF’s next generation of disruptive research and development.
As a result, DSTG is reviewing and improving its approach to asset management, to inform priorities for future investment.
“Our discussions centred not only on what capabilities were needed, but also where they should be located to enable fast-fail prototyping,” Mr Barona said.
While most equipment is housed at DSTG sites, some of the infrastructure has been installed within partner universities.
“Engagement with our partners in industry and academia has been critical for the success of the project,” Mr Barona said.
Partner institutions have included the Universities of South Australia, Adelaide and Queensland, and Australian National University, Macquarie University and RMIT. Organisations such as Royal Australian Air Force, Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF), Micreo, Lintek and QinetiQ have also been involved.
“Infrastructure sharing arrangements, similar to that which DSTG has had in place with the ANFF for many years, provide a significant boost in research capability, allowing the facilities to be developed and evolved by our partners while still allowing us access to all new infrastructure and the expanding local skills base that will result,” Mr Barona said.
The latest technology delivered with speed
The new equipment has already demonstrated its value in delivering military capability.
For instance, DSTG manufactured novel aircraft doors within a short timeframe for the RAAF Air Warfare Centre’s PC21 flight trial.
“Not only are we delivering military capability in a speedy manner, the capability upgrade ensures our staff are able to keep up with the latest technology,” he said.
“By leveraging each other’s capabilities, we will see the mutual benefit of being able to train and upskill our staff at these external sites, and their apprentices being able to benefit from our knowledge and expertise at ours.”
Chief Defence Scientist Professor Tanya Monro said the Capital Refresh Program had delivered critical testing and fabrication infrastructure that would benefit the entire research community.
“Only by deeply engaging with our university and industry partners, by equipping our researchers with the best equipment and ensuring they have ready-access to critical facilities, as we have through the Capital Refresh Program, can we build the integrated and aligned sovereign Defence science and technology capability that Defence demands,” Professor Monro said.