The scope of the 3D printer seems to be endless for the world of 3D printing has taken off, with the latest development straight out of Australia. Researchers of the Monash University, Melbourne have created the world’s first 3D printed jet engine, a breakthrough that could change the way aircraft are constructed.
The researchers with the help of CSIRO and Deakin University have not printed one but two metal jet engines and put one of them on display at the International Air Show in Avalon, Victoria. The proof-of-concept prototype in partnership of Monash and its spin-off company Amaero Enginerring have already registered interest from Airbus, Boeing and Raytheon, the defence manufacturer.
The scope and use of 3D printing in the aerospace industry can help in reducing the time spent on a project considerably, creating a lighter engine while reducing operational and production costs, according to a white paper by Smarttech. The use of a printed model can reduce waste by up to 90% leading not only to a reduction of cost, but also a reduction in the environmental impact from manufacturing.
Monash create the parts of the engine using printers that spread a very thin layer of metal powder across a base plate. A laser then formed the required shape using a computer-generated outline. This process was repeated over and over again until the part was completed. The project took over a year to complete and received funding from multiple groups including the Australian Research Council.
Reports suggest that number of aerospace companies have expressed interests in developing components at the university – using the 3D printing, components that previously would have taken months to design and manufacture could be made in weeks.
According to Prof. Xinghua Wu, the director of the Monash Center for Additive Manufacturing, the next step will be to fine-tune the finish of the components with testing of a 3D-printed engine expected to take place within a couple of years.
The researchers are currently doing cost analysis to discover the parts worthwhile to 3D print, compared with parts that should remain manufactured in the traditional way. Testing is also underway to see what parts of the prototype would be feasible to produce on a larger scale for aerospace companies. Already, Amaero has been commissioned to make hundreds of prototype fuel injectors for testing.
Although 3D printing in the aerospace industry has been around for ages, emerging technology that allows the melting of metal powders is opening up the door of the possibilities for widespread use and exciting developments in the field.
Below is a brief video of Prof. Wu discussing about the project:
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