Aussie RVs Receive 3D Printing Boost from $1.16M Government Grant

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When air travel took a backseat during the pandemic, road trips in RVs surged in popularity. With international travel plummeting by a staggering 73% in 2020, domestic adventures on four wheels soared. ZoneRV, an Australian game-changer, stepped up, harnessing the power of 3D printing to merge cutting-edge technology with a renewed love for the open road. Buckle up as we journey through their latest innovative strides in the caravan world.

Stationed on the Sunshine Coast, caravan manufacturer Zone RV raised expectations by snagging the title for the largest 3D printer in the Southern Hemisphere. The gigantic system, with a volume of 22m x 5m x 1.6m, showcases Zone RV’s determination to break new ground and strengthens its reputation for off-road caravan production.

VSF122 composite printer. Image courtesy of CNC Design.

Zone RV incorporates technology from the aeronautical and marine industries to build lighter, stronger, safer off-road caravans with all-composite bodies and cabinetry systems. As a result, users can keep the weight below their vehicle’s Gross Combined Mass (GCM). This ensures the caravans can handle Australia’s rough terrains. Zone RV designs these caravans for Australian corrugated roads. They construct them on a custom chassis, complemented by the specially crafted CruiseMaster suspension systems.

Founded in 2016, the company offers a range of Australian-made off-road caravans. Many users have expressed satisfaction with Zone RV’s caravans because they focus on luxury and quality. The attractive starting price of its BASE model, below AUD 100,000 ($64,280), adds to the appeal. Additionally, Zone RV has recently invested in a new $7.5 million, 5,000-square-meter facility in Coolum Eco Industrial Park. This solidifies the company’s standing in the competitive Australian market.

Zone RV’s caravans. Image courtesy of Zone RV.

Symbiosis

Zone RV chose the Virtual Smart Factory VSF122 large-area gantry-based machine from CNC Design. This behemoth balances both 3D printing and machining in composite materials.

“At Zone RV, we’re always on the prowl for innovative avenues that enhance our product delivery,” said Zone RV Founder and CTO Dave Biggar. “This monumental 3D printer from CNC Design is exactly the leap we envisioned. Beyond the massive productivity enhancements, it propels our flexibility in design and manufacturing. Having the largest 3D printer in the Southern Hemisphere? It’s a bold testament to Zone RV’s drive to redefine innovation in caravanning and Australian manufacturing as a whole.”

Zone RV installed this high-tech system at its manufacturing hub in June 2022. They mainly use it for trimming and polishing molds and printing blanks for mold creation. Moreover, the business will work shoulder-to-shoulder with CNC Design, pioneering new methods to print large molds directly.

Notably, this large area gantry meshes five-axis milling with three-axis printing — all housed in a single machine. Outfitted with the Siemens SINUMERIK ONE, it’s at the cutting edge of CNC systems today. Five-axis milling is conducted with a 10 kW, 20,000 rpm milling spindle from HSD Mechatronics. This is complemented by swarf extraction, the process used to remove, collect, and dispose of waste material. Alongside this, its 3D printing capabilities are enhanced by the CNC Design Model 30 print head, which can print up to 30 kilograms per hour. Add-in features include five-axis orbital sanding and a built-in tool rack and print head calibration unit. It’s clear that no stone was left unturned in its design.

Moreover, this machine is integral to CNC Design’s transformative VSF concept. It’s redefining the production of sizeable components in diverse sectors, from construction to entertainment. This VSF initiative also signifies adaptability, producing parts in various materials ranging from composites and plastics to concrete and wax. CNC Design is carving its niche, catering to the world with some of the greatest additive manufacturing machines, crafting parts up to 30 meters long.

John Croft from CNC Design states, “Zone RV is at the cusp of revolutionizing advanced manufacturing. This new machine doesn’t just give them a leg up; it propels them leagues ahead. We’re beyond thrilled to collaborate, ensuring they milk every ounce of potential from this technological titan.”

State-backed innovation

Thanks to a $1.16 million Made in Queensland (MiQ) grant, Zone RV acquired the 3D printer, expanded production, and created 99 new jobs, fostering local employment and contributing to the state’s economy. After the grant period, the business grew to 231 employees. Through these grants, the Queensland government supports manufacturers and spurs growth in the local industry that currently employs 180,000 Queenslanders.

Building on this momentum over the past five years, the MiQ program has bolstered the region’s economic landscape, generating more than $100 million in private-sector investment. Queensland-based manufacturers who want to replicate Zone RV’s success should apply for MiQ’s Round 6, opening in October 2023.

Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing, Glenn Butcher and Zone RV Founder David Biggar. Image courtesy of Queensland Government.

Biggar praised the initiative: “This Made in Queensland grant was a great help to the business. We were able to really take the big leaps forward that we wanted to do, thanks to the funding support we received from the Queensland Government. We really enjoy being part of Inside Advanced Manufacturing, also. It’s building connections with our peers and working collaboratively with other manufacturers to help the entire sector thrive. It’s great to be part of something like this.”

Branching out, Biggar also extended the application of this colossal 3D printer to his other ventures, including catamaran manufacturer Cure Marine. Diversifying its use, he mentioned that the brand also used the 3D printer’s capabilities to create the CURE 55 performance cruising catamaran. It was launched in December 2022.

Cure Marine’s Cure 55 catamaran. Image courtesy of Cure Marine.

Zone RV’s incorporation of this significant 3D printer marks a step forward in manufacturing, signaling broader changes across new subsectors. Its diverse applications, from caravan to marine production, highlight the growing role of additive manufacturing. The partnership between Zone RV and CNC Design, bolstered by the Queensland government’s support, represents a collective effort towards a modern, tech-driven Australian manufacturing scene.

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