Australian researchers said Thursday they have created two jet engines using 3D printing in what is described as a world-first that has attracted the interest of major manufacturers and engineering firms.
The machines — produced using the template of a gas turbine engine from French aircraft engine maker Safran, which supplies Airbus and Boeing — demonstrated the potential 3D printing had to produce high-quality products, researchers from Melbourne’s Monash University said.
“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,” the university’s Ian Smith said.
“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 aluminium.”
3D printing was invented in the 1980s and employs lasers to “print” objects from metals or plastics according to a digital design.
There has been a recent upsurge in interest tied to patents on the original technology expiring — opening the way for competition that will drive up quality and push down prices.
Wu Xinhua, from Monash University, said her team created the machines by pulling apart the old engine and scanning its components, with the complex project taking a year to complete.
One of the engines is on display at the Australian International Airshow in Melbourne with the second in Toulouse at the French aerospace company Microturbo.
“Xinhua and her Monash team have demonstrated their mastery of additive manufacturing in metal,” said Jean-Francois Rideau, head of research and technology at Microturbo.
Smith said the technology could be used to build prototypes and customised components quickly and cheaply.
The 3D metals printers could also be used in the biomedical industry to create body parts or equipment.
“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 customised for them or a particular surgical procedure.”
Market researcher Gartner last year forecast that worldwide spending on 3D printing will rise from US$1.6 billion in 2015 to around US$13.4 billion in 2018.