A PhD candidate from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia has been awarded a $15,000 prize for developing a 3D printed steel tool that is capable of cutting titanium alloys as well as—if not better than—traditionally manufactured steel tools. The achievement marks a first and could pave the way for increased applications of 3D printing in tool production.
The 3D printed cutting tool was created by PhD student Jimmy Toton, who was recently named the Young Defence Innovator 2019 at the Avalon International Airshow for the project. The award, which came with a $15,000 prize, highlights what a breakthrough the 3D printed tool is for the aerospace sector, where cutting tools are notoriously difficult and expensive to manufacture.
Developed by Toton and colleagues at RMIT’s Advanced Manufacturing Precinct, the steel milling cutters were produced using Laser Metal Deposition technology, which feeds metal powder into a laser beam to deposit thin layers of metal. The cutting tools also leverage 3D printing’s capacity to build complex internal and external geometries for optimal strength and material/weight reduction.
“Now that we’ve shown what’s possible, the full potential of 3D printing can start being applied to this industry, where it could improve productivity and tool life while reducing cost,” Toton said. “Manufacturers need to take full advantage of these new opportunities to become or remain competitive, especially in cases where manufacturing costs are high. There is real opportunity now to be leading with this technology.”
Of course, Toton and his team encountered various challenges during the development of the 3D printed steel tools. Perhaps most significant were the issues faced in getting the layers to print and bond strongly, avoiding the risk of cracks or performance compromises.
Now that those challenges have been overcome and the 3D printed tool has adequately demonstrated its titanium cutting performance against more traditional tools, the PhD student is establishing a print-to-order capability for Australia’s advanced manufacturing supply chains.
“Supply chain innovations and advances like improved tooling capability all add up to meeting performance benchmarks and positioning Australian companies to win work in local and global supply chains,” said Dr. Mark Hodge, Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC) CEO. “The costs of drills, milling cutters and other tooling over the life of major Defence equipment contracts can run into the tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars. This project opens the way to making these high-performing tools cheaper and faster, here in Australia.”
Notably, the development of the 3D printed tool was done in close collaboration with Sutton Tools, an Australian Tool Manufacturer, as Toton was an engineering intern there throughout his research. This enabled his research to have direct ties to industrial applications. “This project exemplifies the ethos of capability-building through industrial applied research, rather than just focusing on excellent research for its own sake,” commented Dr. Steve Dowey, Sutton Tools Technology Manager.