A team of RMIT University researchers are using laser metal deposition technology to build and repair defence aircraft parts. The process is based on novel laser technology and is part of a two-year project with RUAG Australia and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC).
The process involves feeding metal powder into a laser beam, which is scanned across a surface, thereby adding the metal in a precise, web-like formation. The metallurgical bond created has mechanical properties similar to or better than the original material.
“It’s basically a very high tech welding process where we make or rebuild metal parts layer by layer,” explains project leader Professor Milan Brandt.
Head of Research and Technology at RUAG Australia, Neil Matthews, says the technology could transform aircraft maintenance.
“Instead of waiting for spare parts to arrive from a warehouse, an effective solution will now be on-site,” says Matthews. “For defence forces this means less downtime for repairs and a dramatic increase in the availability and readiness of aircraft.”
The technology will apply to existing legacy aircraft as well as the new F35 fleet. The technology is also being adopted in RUAG’s recently established robotic laser additive manufacturing cell.
A move to locally printed components could mean big savings on maintenance and spare part purchasing, scrap metal management, warehousing and shipping costs.
An independent review, commissioned by BAE Systems, estimated the cost of replacing damaged aircraft components to be in excess of $230 million a year for the Australian Air Force.
CEO and Managing Director of the IMCRC, David Chuter, believes application of this technology will be much broader than defence.
“The project’s benefits to Australian industry are significant. Although the current project focuses on military aircraft, it is potentially transferable to civil aircraft, marine, rail, mining, oil and gas industries,” says Chuter.
“In fact, this could potentially be applied in any industry where metal degradation or remanufacture of parts is an issue.”