Time to make, bake and break

Home to Australasia’s only composite manufacturing robot, UNSW’s new Automated Composites Laboratory facility is a one-stop shop for research and industry.

Professor Gangadhara Prusty has a neat slogan for UNSW’s new Automated Composites Laboratory. For researchers and industries that work with composite materials, it’s the ideal place to “make, bake and break”.

The recently opened three and a half million-dollar facility is one of the most advanced educational centres of its kind. 

“As far as I know, UNSW is one of the very few universities in the world to have a composites manufacturing robot,” says Professor Prusty, who leads the Advanced Structure and Materials research priority group at UNSW’s Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering. “The four metre arm reach robot is the centrepiece of our lab and typically seen in companies such as Boeing and NASA.”

This automated tape-laying machine provides fast, precise and flexible composites fabrication; and while UNSW’s robot isn’t quite the size of Boeing’s or NASA’s, you can’t help but be in awe as it creates a three-metre long bespoke composite part before your very eyes.

And it’s not just the science fiction style robot that makes this lab so unusual. It’s a true “one-stop shop”, says Professor Prusty.

The laboratory has leading-edge fatigue testing, high velocity drop-impact instruments, and a hydraulic isolated test bed, that enable accurate and repeatable results. “The facility can test large scale metallic or composite structures under multi-axial loadings,” Professor Prusty says.

“Plus we have the ‘baking facility’, an industrial-grade autoclave for even larger specimens. We can also test materials for strength – primarily tensile, compression, bending, torsion, fatigue and impact.”

Housed within Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering’s new Ainsworth Building complex, the integrated laboratory is a major learning centre for PhD students and will help industry develop ground-breaking composite technologies to solve real-world challenges.

“We’re currently working with the Defence Science and Technology Group to help develop super-efficient composite propellers for large ocean-faring vessels,” says Professor Prusty. “Using the novel properties of composites – bend and twist coupling – we can achieve unparalleled results.”

Even though the laboratory has not been open for long, industry is already showing a keen interest, making submissions for multimillion-dollar government grants on the strength of a potential partnership.

“The speed at which industry is working to partner with us is a testament to how good the lab is,” he says. “They can see how important this facility will be in helping them to achieve their business goals.”

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