3D Printing

CSIRO's Lab 22: Kickstarting a 3D printing revolution in titanium

CSIRO's Lab 22: Kickstarting a...
CSIRO Lab 22: making millions of dollars' worth of 3D printing equipment available to local business
CSIRO Lab 22: making millions of dollars' worth of 3D printing equipment available to local business
View 35 Images
3D-printed horseshoes (Arcam 3D printer)
1/35
3D-printed horseshoes (Arcam 3D printer)
part printed using the Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer
2/35
part printed using the Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer
Clayton Feb 2015 – CSIRO researchers and titanium heel bone implant (Arcam 3D printer)
3/35
Clayton Feb 2015 – CSIRO researchers and titanium heel bone implant (Arcam 3D printer)
Flying Machine demo bicycle, featuring 3D-printed frame joints
4/35
Flying Machine demo bicycle, featuring 3D-printed frame joints
parts printed using cold spray technology
5/35
parts printed using cold spray technology
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - printed sand casting mold
6/35
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - printed sand casting mold
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - printed sand casting mold
7/35
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - printed sand casting mold
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - printed sand casting molds for engine parts
8/35
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - printed sand casting molds for engine parts
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - the first of its kind in the Southern hempsphere. It prints sand particles, held together with a bonding agent, and can also be used for ceramics and other powders.
9/35
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - the first of its kind in the Southern hempsphere. It prints sand particles, held together with a bonding agent, and can also be used for ceramics and other powders.
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - the first of its kind in the Southern hempsphere. It prints sand particles, held together with a bonding agent, and can also be used for ceramics and other powders.
10/35
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - the first of its kind in the Southern hempsphere. It prints sand particles, held together with a bonding agent, and can also be used for ceramics and other powders.
Sample parts cast using a sand-printed mold.
11/35
Sample parts cast using a sand-printed mold.
Left: a sample part cast in a sand-printed mold. Right: a sand-printed demo disc
12/35
Left: a sample part cast in a sand-printed mold. Right: a sand-printed demo disc
Titanium powder - an expensive but powerful feed stock for 3D printing
13/35
Titanium powder - an expensive but powerful feed stock for 3D printing
3D-printed acetabular cup to replace part of the human hip joint - rough exterior surface helps the patient's bone to adhere to the titanium
14/35
3D-printed acetabular cup to replace part of the human hip joint - rough exterior surface helps the patient's bone to adhere to the titanium
Arcam A1 electron beam 3D printer - the first in Australia
15/35
Arcam A1 electron beam 3D printer - the first in Australia
Arcam A1 electron beam 3D printer - the first in Australia
16/35
Arcam A1 electron beam 3D printer - the first in Australia
Concept Laser M2 machine - higher fidelity than the Arcam machine, but it takes longer to print
17/35
Concept Laser M2 machine - higher fidelity than the Arcam machine, but it takes longer to print
Support equipment for the Concept Laser M2 machine, including vacuum and gas equpiment
18/35
Support equipment for the Concept Laser M2 machine, including vacuum and gas equpiment
Demo print from the Concept Laser machine, showing the cross-hatched pattern typical of laser-melted titanium
19/35
Demo print from the Concept Laser machine, showing the cross-hatched pattern typical of laser-melted titanium
Demo print from the Concept Laser machine, showing support structures that break off to allow complex shapes to be built
20/35
Demo print from the Concept Laser machine, showing support structures that break off to allow complex shapes to be built
Demo print from the Concept Laser machine, showing the cross-hatched pattern typical of laser-melted titanium
21/35
Demo print from the Concept Laser machine, showing the cross-hatched pattern typical of laser-melted titanium
The first (aborted) test print from the Concept Laser machine - a pair of buttocks with ears on them that the German engineer found amusing
22/35
The first (aborted) test print from the Concept Laser machine - a pair of buttocks with ears on them that the German engineer found amusing
One of Bastion Cycles' titanium bicycle frame lug designs
23/35
One of Bastion Cycles' titanium bicycle frame lug designs
Titanium bicycle frame lug, showing breakable support fins that help to dissipate heat during printing
24/35
Titanium bicycle frame lug, showing breakable support fins that help to dissipate heat during printing
CSIRO's Lab 22 – 22 being the atomic number of titanium
25/35
CSIRO's Lab 22 – 22 being the atomic number of titanium
CSIRO's Lab 22 – set to expand with more machinery coming
26/35
CSIRO's Lab 22 – set to expand with more machinery coming
CSIRO Lab 22: making millions of dollars' worth of 3D printing equipment available to local business
27/35
CSIRO Lab 22: making millions of dollars' worth of 3D printing equipment available to local business
Piece printed using cold spray technology, showing a telltale splatter pattern
28/35
Piece printed using cold spray technology, showing a telltale splatter pattern
Printed tube built from the bottom up using cold spray technology
29/35
Printed tube built from the bottom up using cold spray technology
Cold spray technology has been used to put a metallic coating on the outside of this flexible plastic tube
30/35
Cold spray technology has been used to put a metallic coating on the outside of this flexible plastic tube
Cold spray technology has been used to coat the exterior of this tube with two separate layers
31/35
Cold spray technology has been used to coat the exterior of this tube with two separate layers
Fine, knitted polyester fabric that has been coated with copper using cold spray technology. The piece remains totally flexible.
32/35
Fine, knitted polyester fabric that has been coated with copper using cold spray technology. The piece remains totally flexible.
Lab 22's Alexandra Kingsbury with the group's Cold Spray Plasma Giken machine, mounted on a robot arm
33/35
Lab 22's Alexandra Kingsbury with the group's Cold Spray Plasma Giken machine, mounted on a robot arm
Lab 22's Cold Spray Plasma Giken machine, mounted on a robot arm
34/35
Lab 22's Cold Spray Plasma Giken machine, mounted on a robot arm
Lab 22's Cold Spray Plasma Giken machine, mounted on a robot arm
35/35
Lab 22's Cold Spray Plasma Giken machine, mounted on a robot arm
View gallery - 35 images

Australia is the world's largest producer of titanium at the moment, and it's sitting on the world's second-largest titanium reserves. But with virtually no local industry processing this strong, lightweight metal or manufacturing with it, the country is sending a massive amount of potential value overseas.

Put it this way – if Australia exports unrefined titanium at its current rate, reserves will be depleted in 90 years. But if the country harnessed the full value of processed titanium, it could achieve the same export earnings for some 9,000 years.

Australia's federal scientific research organization, the CSIRO, is looking for ways to kick-start a local titanium manufacturing industry and develop some of that value, and one of the most promising sectors for titanium manufacturing is in 3D printing.

"Titanium is a difficult material to machine, it really eats through tooling and it's a very reactive metal, so it can be quite dangerous if you get hot spots while machining it," says CSIRO's Research Group Leader in Additive Manufacturing, Alexandra Kingsbury. "So it's difficult to machine, but it's weldable, so that makes it appropriate for these [3D printing] machines."

Concept Laser M2 machine - higher fidelity than the Arcam machine, but it takes longer to print
Concept Laser M2 machine - higher fidelity than the Arcam machine, but it takes longer to print

CSIRO has made a substantial commitment to 3D printing research, with an AUD$6 million plus investment in its Lab 22 additive manufacture facility. You might remember Lab 22 as one of the partners in the world's first 3D-printed jet engine.

Under Kingsbury's leadership, Lab 22 is now operating four million-dollar machines, some of which have never been installed in the southern hemisphere before. These include an electron-beam melting Arcam machine, a bonded sand printer and a cold-spray plasma giken robot arm that fires cold titanium particles at a substrate surface hard enough to splatter on and bond.

Lab 22's Alexandra Kingsbury with the group's Cold Spray Plasma Giken machine, mounted on a robot arm
Lab 22's Alexandra Kingsbury with the group's Cold Spray Plasma Giken machine, mounted on a robot arm

And while these machines will primarily be used for research, the team has decided to take a very direct role in developing local manufacturing companies in their downtime. "We don't utilise and run these machines flat stick 100 percent of the time on research," says Kingsbury, "Research programs are expensive, materials are expensive, you don't run the machines unless you've got funding for it. There's some latent capacity there that we can allow companies in to access."

Thus, Lab 22 has taken on four initial manufacturing partners – local businesses with interest in developing their 3D printing capabilities.

The first two partners are 3D printing outsourcers Keech3D and MadeForMe. "These guys, you send them a file and they'll get it printed for you," says Kingsbury, "This service bureau model's already up and running in plastics – it can definitely happen in metals too, and that's what these two companies are doing."

The third is Nezkot Precision Tooling, which does a lot of specialist work for aerospace and defense, and the final partner is Bastion Cycles, which is incorporating 3D-printed titanium pieces as the joints in its ultra-lightweight bicycle frames.

Flying Machine demo bicycle, featuring 3D-printed frame joints
Flying Machine demo bicycle, featuring 3D-printed frame joints

Kingsbury says Lab 22 is an opportunity for these companies to be guided by CSIRO's expertise through the difficult learning curve of additive manufacture. "It's not quite as plug and play as the hype might have you believe. There's a lot of expertise that you need to do this properly. Sometimes you want a surface to be really smooth, even mirror finish. Sometimes you want it to be rough – this is an acetabular cup for a hip replacement, you want the surface to be rough because the bone's gonna adhere to it better. It's about working out what works better for your product. Do you want to do really fast printing, and then a bit of extra machining, or would you prefer to do a slower print and less machining, or even no machining, could you get away without machining at all? These are the subtle trade-offs that people need to consider when they start using the technology."

One of the keys is knowing where 3D printing can actually give you a business advantage at this stage of the game. "Don't print something you can make traditionally, it's not going to give you a business case. But what will is if you're increasing your complexity and light-weighting your parts, if you wanted to customize something, or do low runs without making new tooling – that's where you'll get value out of this technology."

Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - the first of its kind in the Southern hempsphere. It prints sand particles, held together with a bonding agent, and can also be used for ceramics and other powders.
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - the first of its kind in the Southern hempsphere. It prints sand particles, held together with a bonding agent, and can also be used for ceramics and other powders.

Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - printed sand casting mold
Voxeljet VX1000 sand printer - printed sand casting mold

These four businesses represent a modest beginning. As CSIRO's own research into titanium processing and printing techniques progresses, Lab 22 will expand with more machines and additional capabilities, opening up more latent capacity for more businesses to come on board.

And of course, the ultimate goal with these businesses is that they'll have enough success with the technology to go away and invest in printers of their own – an outcome that would be good for Australia and for the CSIRO team. "There's a few exceptions," says Kingsbury, "but in real true R&D land, we work with global customers, there's really no industry here to service yet. We'd like to see people in Australia, in Melbourne manufacturing using the machines. I think the not-so-secret evil plan there is that they'll need R&D work too in the future – perhaps they'll come back to us."

Lab 22 is an impressive facility with cutting-edge equipment and facilities, and goals no less than sparking a manufacturing revolution. We wish Alexandra and the team every success.

More information: CSIRO Lab 22

View gallery - 35 images
4 comments
yawood
An excellent initiative. Let's hope it works as well as they envisage and value add to Australia's exports.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
The US needs to make and export products made from its hydrocarbons rather than exporting the raw material. This is our only prospect for paying off the national debt. I am still looking for a retail joining system for composite bicycle tubes. In the 70's, I was using a furniture foam backed epoxy-glass sandwich, and surforming it down. Needed a frame jig to pre-glue the tubes. Now, some people are using 3-D printed molds in place of the foam. Some bamboo kits have lugs that could be used this way.
Martin Hone
Let's hope the government gets behind this as well. A great idea, and that's something Australia really needs right now.....
Marke
Brilliant stuff.
If only Australian governments would get fully on board with this instead of constantly outsourcing and exporting and 'free trading' and kowtowing to the big multinationals and our gigantic trading partners.
This is great, but my guess is it will all grind to a halt the next time our brilliant government decides on another round of CSIRO downsizing.