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(Australian Associated Press)
An Australian-built metal 3D printer with the potential to manufacturer aircraft wings, ship hulls, submarines and rocket fuselage is shaping as a global game changer.
CSIRO-backed outfit Titomic is set to officially put the world’s largest metal 3D printer to test for the first time in front of a crowd at an unveiling ceremony in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Ahead of pushing the start button on the mega-machine, the ASX’s sixth-best performing company in 2017 is spruiking the technology as the greatest innovation to hit large-scale metal manufacturing in centuries.
“The reality is when you look at the metals industry nothing’s changed fundamentally in 5000 years,” Titomic boss Jeff Lang told AAP.
“The Greeks invented the process of digging a resource out of the ground, melting it and folding it into a metal shape.
“When we talk about the standard metal printers, they’re still based on that fundamental technology. Our process completely defies that.”
Unlike other metal and plastic 3D printers, the CSIRO-patented, cold-spray process – known as Titomic kinetic fusion – accelerates titanium and other particles within a gas-powered jet stream.
Pre-programmed robots then shoot out the metallic mixture at a speed that fuses it onto scaffold material.
“It’s a bit like throwing a ball at a wall,” Mr Lang said.
“I throw it that hard when that ball hits the wall it’ll form out of shape.”
The project was born out of a 2007 study as the federal government searched for a way to capitalise on Australia’s rich titanium resources rather than simply export the metal.
“Our idea is to sell this technology. To put it on the map and … push titanium powder,” Mr Lang said.
The 40m x 20m machine is able to produce a metal object nine metres long, three metres wide and 1.5 metres high.
But it could be configured to even larger settings.
“It’s what we believe is the first in the world at this scale and this capability,” Mr Lang said.
“We know the build-speed of the part is 45kg per hour. Generally, the normal metal 3D printer is about 1kg in 24 hours.”
The main feature of the technology is its versatility, capable of producing everything from finite medical implants, bicycle frames and luxury luggage to larger automotive, aerospace and defence parts.
However, the ability to fuse different metals is another feather in the printer’s oversized cap.
“It means designers and engineers can go back to the drawing board now and imagine parts that were impossible to produce in the past,” Mr Lang said.