We’ve definitely been seeing a lot of 3D printing innovation coming out of Australia recently, from 3D printed fashion, medical implants and 3D bioprinting to a virtual 3D world of dinosaurs and the innovative work AML Technologies is doing with Wire-Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAM). The startup received a substantial grant from the Australian government to help commercialize its WAM process, and it’s not the only company down under that’s getting some help from the government.

According to the Northern Territory (NT) Government, a new type of 3D printer that was developed in Darwin, which is designed to be cheaper and faster than any other current metal 3D printing technology, could completely transform the face of the country’s manufacturing, quite a big claim for one piece of equipment…and thanks to a AUD$400,000 government grant, Charles Darwin University (CDU) will soon acquire the machine.

The LightSpEE3D printer, from SpEE3D, was originally introduced at the Robert Bosch Venture Forum, and won the 2015 Bosch Venture Award. The large machine 3D prints metal at production speeds, and the company itself is a CDU spinoff. The LightSpEE3D has a supersonic print nozzle, a high speed 6-axis robot, an enclosed build chamber, and a touchscreen interface inspired by video games. According to Steven Camilleri, the co-founder and CTO of SpEE3D, the 3D printer is the first of its kind, and has increased the rate of production while at the same time lowering costs for its customers.

“We’ve got a part that we did for an automotive supplier and we were able to bring the 3D print time down from about 100 to 200 hours to about 20 minutes. And we were able to bring the cost down from sort of $US3,000 to $US5,000 to about $US30,” explained Camilleri.

Thanks to the government grant, the CDU will research new applications for the technology once the LightSpEE3D printer is delivered. According to NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner, one of the possibilities that CDU will explore with the LightSpEE3D printer is any potential use by companies that operate in remote areas, which Australia is full of.

Gunner said, “So you’re talking about a massive change forward now in how you actually manufacture: you can do it very local and very specific and the Territory can lead the way.”

“When you think about remote communities, necessity is the mother of invention. We’ve got a lot of need and you want to be able to do things locally. And I think through this practice we will be able to be at the frontier of the change in manufacturing.”

NT Chief Minister Gunner, with Steven Camilleri, holding a part manufactured by the new LightSpEE3D printer at CDU. [Image: Lucy Marks, ABC News]

SpEE3D is certainly up to the task – its two founders have a history of commercializing innovative technologies, and so understand the challenges that face manufacturers in the industry. Camilleri explained that because the company’s fast-paced technology is inexpensive, it’s “accessible to new industries and big-scale manufacturing.”

Camilleri said, “We believe we’ve got a process that suits manufacturing better than some of the existing processes for metal manufacturing. It’s got to do with convenience so rather than having many, many months and weeks of leave time for parts, we can bring that right down to essentially instantaneous. Which means your production is smaller and much more cost effective and you can bring in new innovations into the market because you don’t have to worry about tooling costs.”

The LightSpEE3D printer will be delivered to CDU this October, and university scientists will work with SpEE3D engineers to research and investigate how much potential the machine has.

“We’ll be doing work with CDU essentially looking into different applications for the printer. We want to scale various uses for the printer than might exist very quickly, so we need more people around who might be working on what those opportunities are with us,” Camilleri explained.

Camilleri also hopes that the printer, together with its new home base at CDU, will act as a sort of catalyst to help create an industry and community in Darwin similar to California’s innovative Silicon Valley. Gunner agrees with Camilleri, and believes that the purchase and continued development of the printer “heralds a new era in the use of the Territory’s resources.”

“It helps turn the Territory not just into a place where resources are, but where things are made. This creates the ability for us to break through some of those previous barriers, maybe around costs or other things,” Gunner explained. “If we can do it cheaply here through things like this creative manufacturing process, the 3D printing process, then suddenly we’re having jobs not just around digging it up but turning it into things.”

While the Australian government has definitely helped further advanced manufacturing in the country through these types of grants, it’s not always on top of innovation. We’ve seen the government ignoring rebate issues for 3D printed medical devices, and a team of Australian researchers had to turn to crowdfunding to work on developing 3D printed ears, due to a lack of government funding. Hopefully, we’ll start seeing more grants like this help shape the country’s manufacturing sector. Discuss in the LightSpEE3D forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source: ABC News]

 

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