“It’s only rocket science,” quips Amaero Engineering Chief Executive Barrie Finnin, as he reveals a jet engine part made with one of five Selective Laser Melting (SLM) 3D printers the firm employs in its groundbreaking additive manufacturing process.
Amaero, established in 2013 to commercialise technology developed by Monash University in the field of 3D printing of metals and alloys, has ambitious plans.
It is already a global leader in the application of laser-based additive manufacturing, or 3D printing technology, in both the aerospace and defence markets, with over five years of dealings with large multinationals in Europe, the USA and Asia.
Its SLM machines have the largest build volume in the world, and the firm made waves by producing the world’s first fully 3D printed jet turbine engine in partnership with Microturbo, of the Safran Group, catapulting it to the world stage.
It has worked with Boeing, BAE Systems, Airbus and defence contractor Raytheon.
The jet part Mr Finnin demonstrates at his office on the edge of Monash University employs a lattice structure that is crucial to the overall integrity of the product – a complex structure that, until now, was impossible.
“This is basically all printed in one piece,” he says. “You can’t make that using conventional manufacturing methods,” Mr Finnin spent two decades in manufacturing followed by 12 years at the CSIRO.
“This is where I see the future – in additive manufacturing. It’s going to transform the way we design things and the products that we end up with.”
The ability to 3D print designs in one step that would otherwise require multiple parts to be assembled, as well as the reduced weight and associated cost savings, opens up a whole new world, especially for defence and aerospace manufacturers.
Through its close partnership with the Monash Centre for Additive Manufacturing, Amaero is able to develop bespoke product solutions based on applied research programs in materials science, alloy design, alloy processing and surface engineering.
Amaero provides rapid prototypes, repairs and production parts to a variety of sectors including aerospace, automotive, defence, biomedical, food processing, mining, oil & gas, rail and artworks.
The bulk of its revenues are from North America and Europe in aerospace, as well as some high performance racing.
The genesis of the technology began around 15 years ago when the team worked with Rolls-Royce on developing direct laser deposition technology, an additive process, generating a series of patents.
The additive method simplifies the certification process as it reduces the number of interfaces. As a result, components are up to a third lighter than a traditional casting process, something the aerospace customers are willing to pay a significant premium for.
“We are informing new designs so they can be lighter, stronger, more durable,” says Mr Finnin, who frequently visits clients in Texas, Arizona, California, Washington state, Germany, France, Italy and the UK.
Amaero sources the printing machines from Germany, then modifies them to suit its needs. They start at around $1 million, with the latest large model retailing at around $4.5 million.
To mitigate start up costs, Amaero has an arrangement with Monash and CSIRO to pay an hourly rate to access their machines to increase its capacity while minimising the capital investment outlay needed to get into the market.
Mr Finnin says the key differentiator and competitive edge for Amaero is its collaboration with Monash, and the access it has to a strong team of engineers and academics.
“We can work with customers at the design stage and in the post manufacturing process to achieve their mechanical property requirements. This is an advantage and puts us in a stronger position to be able to take on our competitors,” he says.