The managing director of Australia’s first commercial 3D manufacturing plant sees a role for technology in revitalising regional industry.
Objective 3D has officially opened its doors in Melbourne and will use 3D printing technology to manufacture parts for sectors including mining, defence, construction, automotive and biomedical.
It’s known as ‘additive manufacturing’.
Managing director Matt Minio says it won’t replace high volume industries like car making and canning.
He says additive manufacturing can produce high value products for niche markets straight off the printer.
We can produce high quality products, high value products, straight off the 3D printer, and that’s what Australian manufacturing really needs to specialise in moving forwardsMatt Minio, MD, Objective 3D
And Mr Minio says that could give rural and regional areas, that already have manufacturing hubs in place, a competitive advantage.
“It certainly doesn’t have to be in capital cities. It would work really well in regional towns that have a manufacturing hub locally.
“It can be a fantastic resource to manufacture locally and have parts very, very quickly on hand.
“Because we know that being first to market these days is extremely important.
“So to have those parts same day, or within a couple of days, from your design being finished is a very large advantage.”
Objective 3D has 15 high-tech 3D printers which each use around the same amount of electricity to run as a household refrigerator.
And the cost of the printers has dropped dramatically too. Some that were worth $750,000 ten years ago can now be purchased for as little as $250,000.
The list of products that can be manufactured by 3D printing covers a massive spectrum of industries and applications from biomedical research to underwater operations in oil and gas industries.
“It’s almost a case of what wouldn’t you print,” says Matt Minio.
“We can print medical devices that are lower volume manufacturing that are used in hospitals to hook up to patients.
“In the mining industry we can make equipment and unique tooling applications.”
Objective 3D has even printed body parts including limbs and a human heart for use by student surgeons
The materials that go into the printer, and one printer can take 1,500 different inputs, could be anything from silicone to rubber to tungsten to bio-compatible materials and poly-metallics and plastics alloys.
The ability for one machine to utilise so many different materials has only been possible within the last year, and those materials are expensive.
But it’s the fact the printers can make the actual tools needed for the manufacture of products itself that gives the technology much of its competitive edge.
“The materials cost would be higher than a traditional injection moulding machine, which is the traditional type of manufacturing process that we’re used to in this country,” Mr Minio said.
“However, that is certainly, in a lot of cases, more than offset by the cost of the tools.
“So the cost of the tools may traditionally be $20,000 to $100,000 for an injection moulding tool, and that’s before you even start producing parts.
“That process may take two months to get that tool, do your trials, then produce your product.
“With a 3D printer, the day you finish the design, you can be manufacturing parts from day one, and manufacturing them a lot cheaper than traditional manufacturing methods, given that you don’t need any tooling.
“And if we can make products for niche markets straight off the printer, we can produce high quality products, high value products, and that’s where Australian manufacturing really needs to specialise.”
Federal Government supports niche manufacturing as the way ahead
Bob Baldwin is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, but before he entered politics he did an apprenticeship as a fitter-tool maker.
He was at the company launch and says he was amazed by the technology, which he sees as the future for Australian manufacturing.
“I was shown an injection-moulding tool that was made and I was asked, from my experience, how many hours would it have taken a tool maker to make this relatively small tool.
“I said probably in the vicinity of 300 to 400 hours of tradesmen work going into that, plus materials.
“This mould they showed me was printed out in six hours.”
Mr Baldwin says advanced manufacturing is critical to help drive the economy and create jobs and the country needs to transition into higher value-added industries based on innovation and a sophisticated workforce.
“When we look at Australia’s manufacturing base, we’re starting to see the end of mass production and we’re seeing a more directional shift to leading edge, design manufacturing.
“And Australia has some of the best and brightest design brains in the world, and if we can get their ideas into the market, ahead of the curve, what it means is we have the opportunity to capitalise on that as a nation.”