A beginner's guide to 3D printing

A beginner's guide to 3D printing

RMIT's Alex Kingsbury explains how additive manufacturing works and why it matters for Australian industry as part of a new government training initiative.

The government's Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre has just launched its Manufacturing Academy website, featuring tutorials and training modules from industry leaders on the key opportunities for innovation.

RMIT Senior Industry Fellow Alex KIngsbury hosts a series of tutorial videos on the site, covering the basics of additive manufacturing - commonly known as 3D printing - and the benefits it provides, as well as common misconceptions, costs and how to get started.

Additive manufacturing is a major disruptive technology transforming biomedical device, aerospace, mining and defence manufacturing industries, as well as others.  

But what exactly is it?

Basically, 3D printing involves building a physical object from a three-dimensional digital model, typically by laying down many thin layers of a material in succession.

Why choose additive manufacturing?

This technology can dramatically increasing manufacturing flexibility, efficiency and responsiveness to customer specifications, and significantly reducing time to market, cost and energy consumption.

Kingsbury says that with Australia’s highly educated workforce and excellent manufacturing and design capabilities, local industry is well placed to take advantage of additive manufacturing’s benefits.

“Additive manufacturing technology plays perfectly to Australia’s cost base, being a high value technology rich in intellectual property,” she says. 

“Working with experts, you may be able to find that one great application that just fits the value proposition of additive manufacturing perfectly.” 

For example, she says, if manufacturers have parts that require excessive labour, contain complex or customisable features or would simply be better if they were lighter, then there’s a good chance additive manufacturing could provide solutions.

Common misconceptions

Kingsbury says that despite holding so much promise for Australian industry, additive manufacturing technology remains quite poorly understood and misconceptions about it are common.

For example, many people assume you can only 3D print a limited range of materials such as plastics, when in fact everything from chocolate to titanium, ceramics and even human cells can be 3D printed.

Another common misconception is that this technology is prohibitively expensive to get started with.

“In fact, to get started in 3D printing you don’t even need to have a 3D printer,” Kingsbury says. 

“You can access service bureaus, businesses that own and operate 3D printers and can help you refine your designs or answer some of your questions, or you can come to universities like RMIT where we have all the facilities and enjoy working with a huge range of industry partners.”

Working with RMIT

RMIT University's Advanced Manufacturing Precinct hosts collaborative research with more than 40 companies including Ford, Siemens and Boeing, as well as many local SMEs, and hosts dozens of international delegations each year.

Examples of industry-led research at the AMP facility include: 

  • 3D printing implants to replace bone removed in cancer surgery, improving chances of saving limbs. Industry partners: St Vincent's Hospital, University of Technology Sydney, Stryker and Innovative Manufacturing CRC.
  • 3D printing steel tools strong enough to handle titanium, saving time and money for aerospace and defence manufacturers working with super hard materials. Industry partners: DMTC and Sutton Tools.
  • Using 3D printers to repair aircraft and mining machine parts with a bond as strong as the original, avoiding the purchase, storage and shipping of replacement parts. Industry partners: Defence Science & Technology, DMTC, RUAG.
  • Designing next generation 3D printers to make plastics that withstand high temperatures and pressure for parts in aerospace and automotive industries. Industry partner: Siemens

AMP Technical Director Professor Milan Brandt said the $35 million facility, now in its eight year of operation, was widely recognised as Australia’s best for advanced manufacturing research and skills development.

“This facility underpins our expertise in additive manufacturing and helps our partners create bespoke solutions - new products, processes or business models - that give them the edge,” Brandt said.

Kingsbury is hosting an industry-focused panel discussion on the 3rd of December 2019 called '3D Printing: The Medical Device Revolution'.

The session will explore 3D printing opportunities in Australia's medical device industries and solutions to practical business model challenges, based on findings from a two-year RMIT research translation project on the topic.


Story: Michael Quin

19 November 2019


19 November 2019


  • Research
  • Aerospace & Aviation
  • Advanced Manufacturing
  • Engineering
  • Science and technology
  • Industry

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