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3D printing funds needed to revive manufacturing in Australia

Australia needs to invest massively in applying 3D printing to manufacturing to compensate for the decline in the traditional sector, says the head of an industry body.

Australian Manufacturing Technology Institute Limited (AMTIL) will later this week formally launch the Additive Manufacturing Hub in a bid to increase collaboration and co-operation in the industry.

A prototype 3D printed house made by Chinese firm Win Sun New Materials. Proponents of the technology say it could save ...
A prototype 3D printed house made by Chinese firm Win Sun New Materials. Proponents of the technology say it could save Australia's manufacturing sector. Photo: Supplied

The federal government is also expected to divulge soon if a funding application for a co-operative research centre (CRC) focussed on "additive manufacturing" - production processes aided by the addition of layers through 3D printing - has been successful.

However, AMTIL chief executive Shane Infanti told IT Pro that the $40 million over seven years available for the CRC was "a drop in the ocean" compared to what is needed.

"If we are going to be serious about our manufacturing future there needs to be considerable money put into this area," he said. "The Singapore government is putting hundreds of millions of dollars into additive manufacturing, and so are the US and the UK."

Mr Infanti said 3D printing technology had evolved to the point where it could be used to make most metal components currently produced by traditional methods.

"We are pretty much at the point now where the technology can be adapted to produce any part that can go into any product, and we're now looking at when it might be feasible to do so.

"In the US they are 3D-printing an aeroplane, full size, including the hull."

He said a primary aim of the new hub would be to seek investment in research.

"The idea is to create a network, to get the right people talking to each other and take advantage of some of these opportunities. There is an ecosystem of organisations: technology suppliers and users, government agencies that can be supportive and provide funding, and research institutes.

"We need to develop a strategic plan for the next two to five years on what needs to be done in this space and how we can bring ourselves to be globally competitive."

One of the hub's first initiatives will be a series of forums around Australia in August and September, in conjunction with the CSIRO's SME Engagement Centre.

The Innovative Manufacturing CRC will be an amalgam of the Advanced Manufacturing CRC, founded in 2008 and the proposed Manufacturing Industry Innovation CRC, which had initially applied for funding separately.

When he announced $186 million CRC funding in February, Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said the applications "displayed merit and are proposing to address issues of national importance".

"As such I have asked these CRCs to submit a combined proposal.”

A planned $80 million round of funding was cut in the May 2014 budget.

Mr Infanti suggested that Australia's strengths were well suited to take advantage of additive manufacturing.

"Australia is particularly good at low volume, well-designed niche manufacturing and 3D printing lends itself to that. In the medical industry, for example, if we want to make quick turnaround titanium knee joints that could almost be printed whilst the patient is on the operating table, that's the sort of thing we have to look at and that's where our manufacturing sector can get to."

Technology futurist Shara Evans, chief executive of Market Clarity, told IT Pro that 3D printing had huge potential, particularly enabling complex components to be manufactured on the fly.

"Having a 3D printing hub in a service depot could be much more cost effective than stocking inventory at multiple depots 'just in case'," she said.

Like 3D printing itself, the idea that it could save Australian manufacturing is not new. Two years ago, Swinburne University in Melbourne believed its own room-size 3D printer would help reshape the manufacturing industry

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