MME selected to receive cutting-edge 3D printing machine worth $350k

UNSW Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering was selected to receive a cutting-edge 3D printer out of 250 applications from around the world in a forward-thinking initiative run by General Electric.

In June 2017, UNSW Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering (MME) was honoured as one of only eight universities to receive a metal 3D printing machine (worth about $350,000) as part of an initiative by global digital industrial company General Electric (GE). GE designed the $10 million initiative to help build the pipeline of additive manufacturing experts and accelerate the adoption of advanced manufacturing worldwide by providing education and access to additive technologies to schools, colleges and universities.Dr Xiaopeng Li, Lecturer, UNSW Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering

“GE received 250 applications from universities all over the world so we were thrilled to be among the recipients,” says Dr Xiaopeng Li, lecturer in MME. “The selection process was rigorous and based not just on our past research excellence in additive manufacturing but our future vision of additive manufacturing as well.”

According to Li, additive manufacturing is a rapidly-expanding field and a national strategic priority in many countries in Europe and North America. “As an emerging manufacturing process, it is a disruptive technology that will both complement many traditional manufacturing techniques, and become a major technique in the future, enabling new business models, products and supply chains to flourish,” he says.

Up till now, additive manufacturing has found applications in industries including the medical sector (e.g. $400 million of investment from Stryker in 2016 to produce titanium orthopedic implants) and aerospace (e.g. the production of qualified low-pressure turbine blades made of titanium aluminide). It is also currently used for repairing, tooling, and optimisation that can reduce weight and materials.

In the future, additive manufacturing will expand into entirely new areas that are difficult to imagine today.

Dr Xiaopeng Li, Lecturer, UNSW Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering

“The application of additive manufacturing in existing industries will increase incrementally and steadily. Not only prototyping, but production applications will expand throughout the aerospace, medical, dental and jewellery sectors. But in the future, additive manufacturing will expand into entirely new areas that are difficult to imagine today. We anticipate it moving into the automobile sector, through industrial vertical markets and perhaps into some traditionally ‘non-industrial’ sectors such as fashion products, textiles, eyewear, food and customised medicines,” Li says.

“With this kind of 3D printing technology predicted to cause such a cosmic shift in manufacturing in the future, receiving this machine is a fantastic opportunity for UNSW students and staff to help pioneer some of these future ideas and techniques.”  

More about the machine

The 3D printing machine is called Concept Laser Mlab Cusing machine and is a metal laser melting system. It is designed to manufacture metal components with elaborate structures and parts made from reactive materials like titanium. It is ideally suited to fine detail, high quality surface finish, and precision component structures.

What will it be used for?

  • Final part production using metal additive manufacturing and improvement of tolerances and surface finish as well as reduction of residual stresses of the final parts;
  • Design and development of new materials, including light-weight and low-cost materials, suitable for additive manufacturing;
  • Design, optimisation and fabrication of various metal parts with functional gradient microstructure, complex geometry or optimised topology design;
  • Simulation of the additive manufacturing process to understand and improve the manufacturing process.

Featured expert

Dr Xiaopeng Li has a Bachelor degree in Materials Science and Engineering and a PhD in Materials Engineering. He has worked in additive manufacturing research in Australia and Europe and his specific research interests include: development of various materials for additive manufacturing; design and simulation for additive manufacturing, e.g. final parts production with improved functional part characteristics; processing-microstructure-property relationship in additive manufacturing; hybrid additive manufacturing; and advanced materials and structures.

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