Australian researchers explore use of Laser Metal Deposition for aircraft repairs
June 27, 2018
A team of researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Melbourne, Australia, is exploring the use of Laser Metal Deposition (LMD) Additive Manufacturing to build and repair steel and titanium parts for Australian Defence Force aircraft in collaboration with RUAG Australia and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC).
LMD is an Additive Manufacturing process in which metal powder is fed into a laser beam, which is scanned across a surface to deposit the material in a precise, web-like formation. It can be used to produce parts from scratch or to repair existing parts with a bond that is as strong as, or in some cases stronger, than the original. “It’s basically a very high-tech welding process where we make or rebuild metal parts layer by layer,” explained Professor Milan Brandt, the research team lead, who says the concept is proven and that prospects for its successful development are positive.
Neil Matthews, Head of Research and Technology at RUAG Australia, stated that the technology has the potential to transform the concept of warehousing and transporting for defence and other industries. Currently, replacement parts must be stored in warehouses before being transported to customers as needed, but this technology means parts could be built or repaired onsite. “Instead of waiting for spare parts to arrive from a warehouse, an effective solution will now be on-site,” he commented. “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, and the move to locally additively manufactured components is expected to offer cost 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 parts to be more than $230 million a year for the Australian Air Force.
CEO and Managing Director of the IMCRC, David Chuter, believes the technology also has applications in many other industries. “The project’s benefits to Australian industry are significant,” he stated. “Although the current project focuses on military aircraft, it is potentially transferable to the civil aircraft, marine, rail, mining, and oil & gas industries. In fact, this could potentially be applied in any industry where metal degradation or remanufacture of parts is an issue.”
The two-year project is the latest in a series of collaborations between RUAG Australia and RMIT’s Prof Brandt.