Manufacturing has helped society leap forward at an astounding pace. But advanced manufacturing offers changes unheralded in scope and scale.
RMIT’s Professor Ma Qian, Professor of Advanced Manufacturing and Materials and Professor of Design, Multifunctional Structures, is engaged in creating that future.
He says the hallmarks of advanced manufacturing are increased freedom of design, much-reduced lead time, comparable, improved or novel properties, reduced energy consumption and improved cost-effectiveness.
“Most conventional manufacturing technologies we are familiar with today used to be advanced manufacturing technologies,” he says.
Perfecting advanced manufacturing techniques so they are better than any other comes with its challenges. But overcoming problems to produce efficient and vastly improved innovations is a hurdle that advanced manufacturing experts relish.
“The challenges I have enjoyed are using or creating the required fundamental knowledge to manufacture defect-free materials or components with desired properties, or to turn the unavoidable defects into a useful feature of the finished products,” Qian says.
“This has been and will continue to be a multidisciplinary activity. It often takes decades of effort by many teams in the world to perfect a technology.”
With so many exciting possibilities that span such a wide variety of industries, 3D printing is a priority focus for researchers at RMIT’s Centre for Additive Manufacturing, of which Qian is Deputy Director.
The centre innovates and researches fundamental and applied aspects of additive manufacturing technologies, material science and processes in partnership with Australian companies to make them more competitive in global supply chains.
RMIT has a long tradition in developing and transferring advanced manufacturing technologies to industries. The University has invested $25 million into this field in the past five years, with its Advanced Manufacturing Precinct housing a wide range of state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facilities.
RMIT researchers have developed impressive advances in composite materials, titanium materials and medical implants.
Medical manufacturing in particular is an emerging strength with the design, development and manufacturing of new biocompatible and biomimetic materials for implants.
Qian and his team are working on four projects funded by the Australian Research Council, which all focus on the design and advanced manufacturing of metallic materials and structures for various applications.
The first involves the design and fabrication of biocompatible titanium-tantalum based alloy for bone implants. The second is centred on the fundamentals of grain nucleation and formation during metal solidification, including solidification under electron beam or laser melting conditions.
Developing a cost-effective advanced manufacturing process to produce intricate titanium components using inexpensive titanium powder is the focus of the third project.
Finally, the fourth project investigates how the coating procedure of long steel strips can be done at an increased level of quality, productivity and cost affordability. These projects involve close collaboration with three Australian companies.
Story: Kate Jones
Photo: Margund Sallowsky
This story was first published in RMIT's Making Connections magazine.