Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is freakin’ cool right now. That’s why the recent announcement of the creation of a Gippsland Additive Manufacturing Centre of Excellence (AMCE) got us pumped — it’s yet another encouraging sign that our region is making strides in transitioning towards more innovative industries.
In a partnership with Federation University, HRL, a leading specialist testing, engineering, and innovation services company that has roots as the research and development group within the State Electricity Commission (SEC) of Victoria, will seek to launch the AMCE in Gippsland to improve our access to this technology and the business opportunities that can arise from it.
Here are the details from our chat with Nicholas Kriesl, a senior mechanical engineer at HRL, and some of the passionate team behind the project:
From both the perspective of Federation University and HRL, what is the goal of the AMCE?
The primary focus for the Centre is to be a technology incubator and to seed additive manufacturing technologies into the Gippsland region. The Centre plans to demonstrate and be pivotal in adopting additive manufacturing for strategic industries in Gippsland and the wider region. This will be achieved by providing access to and training for technology that so far has been inaccessible for small to medium enterprises (SMEs).
It is proposed that the Gippsland AMCE will offer research and design, product printing, standards certification and training in additive manufactured steel products, particularly stainless steel.
The adoption of additive manufacturing in Gippsland will set the region as a manufacturing and technology powerhouse contributing greatly to the Victorian economy as we transition from the traditional sectors represented in the region and participate in Industry 4.0.
That said, HRL identifies the need to diversify from traditional markets to generate new revenue streams and to attract exceptional talent from the Gippsland region in order to take up the opportunities that will come. To do this, HRL recognises the need to forge close relationships with the education sector, in particular, Federation University.
Federation University’s partnership with HRL supports the goals of the University, as outlined in Transforming Lives and Enhancing Communities Strategic Plan 2018 – 2022. These goals include enabling effective and productive local, national and international partnerships that are impactful, innovative, professional and mutually beneficial for communities and regions.
Federation wants to attract STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students and conduct high value research that can be commercialised through collaborations with industries to stimulate employment and improve quality of life in the region. Federation is aiming to become nationally and internationally recognised as an accredited training provider for the professions of the near future.
Federation University is committed to undertaking innovation and discovery activities to foster economic diversification and community resilience. The university aims to help evolve the Gippsland region from a resource-intensive region to an innovation-intensive one.
Why is Gippsland’s involvement in this technology important?
The strategic industrial sectors of the Latrobe Valley primarily include manufacturing, electricity generation, mining, petrochemical, agriculture and aquaculture, forestry, food processing, health services, education, aerospace and, soon, electric vehicles. This is a massive spread of opportunities for additive manufacturing.
The Latrobe Valley and the wider Gippsland region is well endowed with small- to medium-sized manufacturers that in some cases form the supply chain for large multinational companies in the region.
Can you please outline HRL and Fed University’s background in additive manufacturing?
HRL’s participation in additive manufacturing in the past has been as an end user. HRL has produced unique inspection techniques that utilise the advantages of additive manufacturing used in heavy industries represented in Gippsland and Australia-wide. HRL has expertise in engineering materials and their applications in these industries.
In addition, HRL is participating in CSIRO’s XANDER-Q research project, which is a collaboration of CSIRO, Lockheed Martin, Amaero Engineering Pty Ltd, Romar Engineering Pty Ltd, HRL Technology and Sanying Precision Instruments, to address non-destructive quality evaluation to allow component certification in critical applications of additive manufacturing.
Federation University has years of research and teaching experience in mechatronics engineering, combining disciplines such as mechanical, civil and electronics engineering. Students in this area are currently able to gain additive manufacturing experience through 3D printing technology using plastics, but the AMCE offers the opportunity to expand this capability into metal printing, which is normally prohibitively expensive.
Federation University is interested in moving into this area not only for the environmental benefits 3D printing offers in waste reduction, but also as a means of contributing to the long-term sustainability of the region as it transitions away from more traditional manufacturing methods.
What makes Gippsland an excellent location for this project?
Gippsland is ripe with innovative people and businesses, evident just by the sheer diversity of industries spread across the region, and, in addition, a pioneering spirit to forge on. Many growing niche industries are choosing Gippsland for all its attributes, such as low establishment costs and affordable living costs.
We also have a large resident workforce of 130,000 with transferable skill sets across the many industries represented throughout the region. Tapping into the imagination of this workforce will present many opportunities for additive manufacturing that have yet to be conceivable.
Can you please describe the technology, facilities and equipment required to make the AMCE successful?
Additive manufacturing is fundamentally an agglomeration of many technologies all working together as a complex system for manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing is the process of building parts by adding material layer-by-layer in a controlled manner to form a final product. Additive manufacturing is better known as ‘3D printing’. The ability to print on demand, at the time of need and at the point of use, has the potential to change the value chains of many companies, including making dramatic reductions in cost and the stock that needs to be kept in inventory.
It also allows you to move directly from the design and analysis phase of an item to production, which reduces the time to get a product to market while also reducing waste.
The Centre will house state-of-the-art printers and postprocessing infrastructure. Additionally, the Centre will sport the latest Computer Aided Design (CAD) software tools to optimise design and take advantage of all that 3D metal printing offers.
How can the addition of the AMCE benefit Gippsland’s local industries?
In the USA and Europe, enormous companies such as Boeing and Airbus that use additive manufacturing expose designers, engineers, managers and tradespeople to additive manufacturing technology, which builds confidence in the technology within their technical community.
This incubator of knowledge in a commercial setting does not exist in Australia, with the knowledge being contained within the research community. CSIRO has a facility called Lab22 that offers access to additive manufacturing equipment for use by Australian companies. However, this facility is focused primarily on cases that use titanium or nickel-based alloys (super alloys) for high-performance applications, which are very expensive.
It is proposed that the Gippsland Centre of Excellence will focus on more common industrial materials such as stainless steels and maraging tool steels, and larger-scale equipment so as not to compete with what already exists in the Australian ecosystem but to complement it. In doing so, costs are reduced, which will assist in the adoption of this technology.
Speaking to potential students and researchers, what can the AMCE and Fed Uni offer them?
Training facilities that cross the spread of skill sets required from pre- to post-processing of additive manufacturing are limited in Australia, with CSIRO Lab22 the only organisation offering training outside of the university for non-postgraduates. This situation presents an opportunity for Federation University’s Centre of Excellence to fill this national deficiency.
These skill sets are the trades of the future.
A facility located at Federation University, Churchill, could potentially become the first nationally accredited training centre for these new trades, attracting many STEM students to the campus.
What is the potential timeline of the AMCE from here?
Funding through the Latrobe Valley Economic Facilitation Fund under the auspice of Regional Development Victoria, Federation University Australia in partnership with HRL Technology Group,
and CSIRO has conducted information sessions in connection with the application of 3D printing/additive manufacturing. These were carried out in Warragul, Traralgon and Sale to introduce the concept to the public and create awareness.
These information sessions form part of a feasibility study that will include further interviews and surveys of stakeholders, followed by a report and proposal for the Centre. We’re hoping for this process to be completed in the near future and to undertake further discussions with government and other bodies around funding to establish the Centre.
It is anticipated that the Centre will be up and running within six to eight months from receipt of this funding.