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3D printing funds needed to revive manufacturing in Australia

Date

Stuart Corner

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.

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

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.

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

0 comment so far

  • This is awesome stuff, but wait til the unions get this concept into their thick skulls. Then it'll be all "printers are taking our jobs!" Trouble is, those jobs are extinct already, they just refuse to give it up. I fear that vested interests and dinosaur business models in Aus will slow down the full uptake of this technology by a good 5 years.

    Commenter
    Speedy_Gonzalez
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    July 31, 2014, 8:03AM
    • I, for one, welcome this technology. With more than 250,000 families waiting on social housing lists and the government unable to afford the overly high labour costs to build enough housing, this would be part of the solution.

      Commenter
      SydneySider
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 31, 2014, 10:53AM
      • Do they run on coal or gas? Indirectly I suppose. That may be good enough for Tones to get behind it. Are they a threat to any LNP donors and right wing think tanks? That's the big question. With our renewable energy market now in tatters, it wouldn't surprise me if the same troglodytes who are set upon destroying the RE market deliberately resist the onslaught of 3D printer technology. "If it ain't made by the hands of debt-slave workers ...then we don't want it!"

        Commenter
        PaxUs
        Location
        Austerelia
        Date and time
        July 31, 2014, 11:49AM
        • When establishing the ecosystem don't overlook the centrality of design to 3D printing. Design will eventually be the creative variable as the hardware and software become increasingly standardised and commodatised.

          Commenter
          deezino.com
          Date and time
          July 31, 2014, 1:10PM
          • A country so abundant in resources: minerals, grains, fruits and vegetables, meat, wool, cotton, bounty from the seas.
            But WHAT do with do with it all. NOTHING.
            Just sell it off at the cheapest price.

            Most large enterprises in Australia are foreign owned.
            At the rate foreign interests are buying up agricultural resources
            Well. There wont really be an Australia. Not a nation. Just a name on a map.

            Commenter
            Maxy
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            July 31, 2014, 2:45PM
            • Yep. Great technology.

              Imagine how fantastic this can be for small towns and communities across the country.

              Pity no Government is forward thinking enough to consider it.

              .....maybe we should tell them there will be money in it for them......

              Commenter
              Drivel
              Date and time
              July 31, 2014, 2:59PM
              • As an engineer who has seen the evolution of 3D printing over the years I am really not sure why so many people seem to want to throw so much money and air time at it. People are looking at making new products and trying to figure out how to 3D print them rather than asking if it is the most efficient way to make them. 3D printing introduces efficiency in some areas of product design and manufacture (I just watched a video of a fuel system component Airbus optimised by designing it as a 3D printed part) but for the vast majority of products it is not the ideal solution.

                Commenter
                inlina
                Location
                Melbourne
                Date and time
                July 31, 2014, 3:55PM
                • 3-D printers, laser cutters and CNC milling machines make up a very flexible toolkit for entrepreneurial groups interested in harvesting the potential of the "long tail" of the internet. Regional areas with cheap space for groups to set up, bandwidth for them to promote their services and a network of people looking for unique engineering solutions could be the starting point for fascinating manufacturing ventures.
                  I was talking about just this sort of thing with a farmer friend of mine. He was lamenting the fact that thousands of windmills of a particular brand were lying disused for the want of a particular main bearing. They could be given a new lease of life by someone perfecting the cheap manufacture of these bearings. Not a profitable venture if you have to tool up in a conventional way but the new gear makes it a business possibility. A tiny example but opportunistic manufacturing of that kind is really a way ahead.

                  Commenter
                  remotestidea
                  Date and time
                  July 31, 2014, 9:11PM

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