Constructing South-East Asia’s largest 3D printer

CNC Design recently completed a project with Witteveen+Bos to develop and supply a 3D concrete printing system for construction in Singapore. The system is South-East Asia’s largest 3D printer.

As Singapore’s public housing authority, the Singapore Housing & Development Board (HDB) is responsible for the development of 80% of the housing in the island city-state. There is a great demand for housing, and 3D concrete printing could help to speed up the housing development task that HDB faces.

On 16 September 2019, HDB declared South-East Asia’s largest 3D printer for construction operational. The Virtual Smart Factory (VSF) 3D Concrete Printing System is capable of printing concrete components up to 9m long, 3.5m wide and 3.8m tall. The project was a joint effort involving Robin Village Development, Nanyang Technological University, Witteveen+Bos and CNC Design.

Witteveen+Bos is an independent engineering consultancy that services clients in water, infrastructure, environment and construction projects.

Witteveen+Bos engaged CNC Design for the development of an advanced six-axis gantry robot as part of the 3D Concrete Printing System. This is now operated for HDB by Witteveen+Bos. CNC Design is an Australian-owned company established in Melbourne in 1984, with core competencies in machine tools, production machinery and associated motion control products.

The project saw CNC the two companies successfully combine their respective fields of expertise: CNC Design’s machine tool and industrial automation knowledge; and Witteveen+Bos’s experience in the use of 3D printing in concrete engineering. The result is a 3D printing system that is customised to HDB’s requirements. It includes full turnkey solutions with design, engineering, installation and delivery of the fully integrated system, with all the electrical and mechanical parts designed to ensure efficient set-up and easy operation.

CNC Design was responsible for the delivery and installation of the turnkey system. Witteveen+Bos provided on-site training for the client’s staff, with detailed knowledge of 3D concrete printing technology, settings and software. CNC Design’s presence in Australia and South-East Asia, including Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, together with Witteveen+Bos’ Singapore location, will ensure ongoing local support in these regions.

Printing in concrete

During the last few years, Witteveen+Bos has been involved in various innovative R&D projects in Singapore, such as the ‘Development of Additive Manufacturing Technology for Construction’ and the ‘Smart Integrated Construction System’ for the HDB.

Currently, the design and fabrication of concrete building elements using the conventional method of precast production is time-consuming and requires high labour content. In addition, the moulds used in construction typically end up being discarded, resulting in material wastage.

Construction using 3D printing, on the other hand, combines digital Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology with additive manufacturing techniques to allow free-form construction without the need for moulds or forms, reducing the environmental burden of material waste. The method also opens up new opportunities for creating geometric forms that would be near impossible to create with traditional methods.

The Virtual Smart Factory system

The basis for the 3D Concrete Printing System is CNC Design’s VSF concept. The VSF concept has been applied to machining, handling and additive manufacturing, not only for concrete, but also for high-density wax (used for making GRC Panel moulds) and composite thermoplastics such as ABS with carbon-fibre.

Using Güdel three-axis Cartesian gantry modules as the platform for the VSF means CNC Design has a well proven system with high accuracy and scalability to very large sizes. The ability to add additional bridges (additional and independent X, Y and  Z axes) allows unlimited flexibility from a single machine, e.g. placement of material between print layers or surface milling.

The Siemens SINUMERIK 840Dsl flagship CNC control system is well suited to the VSF-Concrete system with its ability to handle multiple technologies and multiple operations from a single system. Technology functions such as five and six-axis machining, multi-channel operation and velocity- dependent process control, provide an advanced CNC system that also scales to suit the application.

Proving the concepts

Shortly before the 3D Concrete Printing System’s operational date, the system was visited by Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s Minister of National Development; and Cheong-Chua Koon Hean, the CEO of HDB. They were shown a room-sized 3D-printed component measuring about 11sqm (3.6m long and 3m wide and 2.75m high), produced in 13 printing hours during successful trials of the new system.

For Witteveen+Bos, this milestone proves the viability of its efforts in the field of 3D printing for construction. Witteveen+Bos has been working as one of the pioneers in 3D concrete printing since 2015. As a frontrunner in this area, it has paved the way for the first 3D-printed pilot projects around the world, such as the first 3D printed structural bridge, and the first liveable 3D printed houses.

The 3D Concrete Printing System brings together CNC Design’s core knowledge of machine tool and industrial automation, based on Siemens Sinumerik CNC technology & Güdel Cartesian gantries, with Witteveen+Bos’s knowledge of 3D printing for and the related software elements.

A vision for better prototyping: Nidek boosts clinical trials, cuts time-to-market with 3D printing

Nidek Technologies (Nidek), located in Padova, Italy, specialises in the development and prototyping of high-technology ophthalmological diagnostic systems.

With all of its products having direct contact with patients, it’s crucial that Nidek produces fully functional prototypes that precisely replicate the final product. This enables a comprehensive evaluation of the fit, form and function of new devices before investing in expensive clinical trials and moving to final production. As this process often proved costly in terms of lead time and capital, Nidek turned to Stratasys 3D printing in a bid to optimise its prototyping process and, as a result, accelerate its clinical validation.

This was demonstrated in a recent project that saw Nidek produce a new automatic Gonioscope, a device designed to observe the space between the iris and cornea. Typically, the R&D team would create the prototypes using traditional manufacturing, requiring expensive injection moulds or using CNC machines to create the individual device components. This led to escalating lead times and, should iterations be required, substantially increased prototyping costs. To overcome these barriers, Nidek invested in a Stratasys Objet500 Connex3 3D printer.

“Our prototyping process has become much more streamlined since incorporating Stratasys 3D printing into our workflow,” says Cesare Tanassi, CEO at Nidek. “The technology enables us to develop complex parts with intricate geometries on demand. The ability to validate designs early in the product development cycle helps us eliminate costly iterations during manufacturing, as well as significantly reducing our time-to-market compared to traditional prototyping methods.”

Deploying 3D printed devices into clinical trials

According to Tanassi, waiting for production parts to conduct clinical evaluations creates costly delays.

“Previously we were constrained by the time restrictions associated with traditional manufacturing,” he explains. “3D printing overcomes these bottlenecks and permits us to quickly enter our devices into clinical trials. As you can imagine, fully verifying our products is crucial to ensuring that premium healthcare is maintained.

“In the case of the Gonioscope, the quality of the Stratasys 3D-printed components saw the device pass a year-long clinical trial where eight global medical centres examined it. It will soon be utilised by clinics and hospitals around the globe, contributing to a novel way to diagnose glaucoma.”

Beyond the Gonioscope, the benefits of 3D printing are impacting numerous other products. According to Federico Carraro, Mechanical Division Manager at Nidek, this occurred when developing the company’s micro-perimeter, a device used to determine the level of light perceived by specific areas of the retina. Previously Nidek used metal fabrication for this device, which took around two months to create and dramatically delayed the prototyping cycle.

“With our Stratasys Objet500 Connex3, we can combine a wide range of 3D printed materials with contrasting mechanical characteristics,” explains Carraro. “This allows us to accurately emulate final parts, including threads, seals, rubber and transparent components. In this case, we achieved the same functional result within 24 hours by replacing metal parts with robust 3D printed components.”

Tanassi adds: “In the case of the Gonioscope, utilising the tough flexibility and snap-fit characteristic of the Stratasys Rigur 3D-printing material, we could replace several aluminium parts with a single 3D-printed component. The ability to quickly 3D-print high-quality parts that require no post-processing has proven instrumental in cutting our iterations and directly reducing our product development cycle. In fact, since introducing Stratasys 3D printing, we have slashed our prototyping costs by 75% and accelerated our development time by 50%.”

A clear case for transparent 3D-printed parts

Nidek is now pioneering a new proprietary polishing process for its prototype illumination lenses. Traditionally the development of lenses requires several months of build time and costs thousands of euros per lens.

“In the future, with the VeroClear material, we may quickly 3D print prototype lenses with high clarity and smooth surface finish devoted to our illumination optics,” says Tanassi. “We used a proprietary robotic polishing process for our 3D-printed lenses.”

The versatility of Connex3 PolyJet materials gives Nidek the tools to quickly overcome multiple challenges throughout the product development process. From ideation, to iterating prototypes, to clinical evaluation, 3D printing drives innovation, improves product design, saves cost and reduces product development time.

Robovoid: Using additive manufacturing to support construction innovation

When Victorian start-up Robovoid Pty Ltd needed to develop sophisticated new tooling for its innovative new concrete construction system, it turned to 3D printing – and AMTIL’s Additive Manufacturing Hub – to find a solution.

Robovoid Pty Ltd was established in July 2018 by Dr John Stehle and Scott Olding for the specific purpose to research, develop and commercialise Stehle’s Robovoid Invention. The Robovoid Invention is a patent-pending recycled plastic void former for concrete construction applications. The Robovoid Invention has drawn on Stehle’s previous experience developing new and innovative precast construction solutions, an example being the innovative dowel connection system adopted in the flooring system implemented for the Leadenhall Building (aka the “Cheesegrater”) in London.

On the back of Stehle’s 25-year career in the construction industry, and with a strong desire by Stehle and Olding to introduce new solutions to the industry that reduce the environmental impact of new construction, the Robovoid Invention commenced its development journey. The Robovoid Invention involves multiple research & development (R&D) components but one of the key areas identified at the beginning of the project was how to make the Robovoid recycled plastic components, or Robovoid Components.

Of course, a key criterion in determining how to make the Robovoid Components was the anticipated cost per unit – the production process had to be efficient! It had to be a production process that could produce Robovoid Components in large volumes at a low cost.

The challenge

Robovoid’s product design heavily involved the application of DfMA (Design for Manufacturing and Assembly) principles, of which Stehle had extensive experience from the construction industry. In going down the path to research, design and develop an injection moulding tool to produce the Robovoid Components, the Robovoid team met and spoke with many suppliers to the industry about the complexity of its mould design (which continued to evolve), and the ability to achieve a suitable cycle time to make the process as efficient as possible.

Two of the reasons for the complexity of Robovoid’s mould design were the complex part geometry itself, and the configuration of the cooling channels within the mould. The design complexity and the observed limitations of traditional toolmaking techniques resulted in Stehle and Olding considering metal 3D printing for some elements of the injection moulding tool.

During this phase of the project they met with Amiga Engineering and discussed their mould design with Managing Director Michael Bourchier and his team. At this stage they also met with John Croft, Manager of the Additive Manufacturing Hub (AM Hub) at AMTIL, and to hear about the Hub’s voucher programme to promote and support additive manufacturing. The experience and expertise of the Amiga team coupled with the support of the AM Hub enabled Robovoid to continue exploring the process and benefits of metal 3D printing components of the overall injection moulding tool.

“We had to think about things such as: plastic flow (as defined by rheology), thermal shrinkage, support conditions during the 3D build process, how to incorporate cooling channels in the mould, and the part ejection method and mould draw requirements,” says Stehle.

Robovoid, its toolmaker Geetha Engineering and the team at Amiga agreed that the moulding tool would utilise H13 tool steel, which is a very tough, high-strength steel. This material is commonly used in injection moulding applications to deal with the high stress and repeat loading environment. However, to the best of the team’s collective knowledge, H13 tool steel had never been used before to 3D print an application this large and complex (approximately 200mm by 200mm by 170mm high). Indeed, Amiga was advised by experts in Germany that it could not be done.

This, of course, was the motivation the team needed to get it done!

The solution

It goes without saying that 3D printing requires 3D modelling to happen first, which included parametric modelling, and basic mould flow and finite element analysis. Before committing to part geometry and steel mould investment for a prototype mould, the Robovoid team wisely tested its part geometry using 3D printing methods via a selective laser sintering (SLS) method and nylon material. 3D Systems Asia Pacific provided an excellent service with this part of the process (which was also financially supported by the AM Hub voucher). In particular, Robovoid was able to physically test and evaluate multiple versions of the ‘click together connection’ design developed by Stehle.

Since injection moulding involves the flow of hot plastic in its liquid state, it can easily escape from any gaps, so Robovoid needed a tool to be produced within a tolerance of +/-0.05mm. While the complex analyses carried out by Amiga indicated that this was theoretically possible, there remained a very real technical risk that it may not be feasible. As it turned out, this was not a straightforward assignment and there were unforeseen technical challenges and some delays. However, with a lot of hard work and persistence, Amiga was (to their great credit) able to produce all the pieces requested and supplied them to Geetha to be incorporated into the wider injection moulding tool.

Key developments that Amiga pioneered on this R&D journey included bespoke cooling and air filtering and extraction systems. Amiga also implemented state-of-the art build analysis so that thermal distortions caused by the high-temperature lasers required to melt the metallic powder could be predicted and compensated via an iterative nonlinear time-history optimisation routine.

Geetha, which predominantly uses traditional mould-making techniques, was very pleased with the accuracy eventually achieved from the 3D printing process and the toughness of the material. Geetha did have to manually polish the mould and make a number of manual adjustments over a period of time as Robovoid tested (and continues to test) the performance of the mould in a trial production environment.

The financial support provided by the AM Hub voucher program was a key enabler for Robovoid to consider and pursue metal 3D printing as part of our overall project. The AM Hub voucher also provided financial support for the testing of part geometry in collaboration with 3D Systems Asia Pacific.

The outcome

The Robovoid team was aware of the limitations of traditional toolmaking techniques and the impact that this would likely have on the performance of its injection moulding tool. Despite the new challenges and uncertainty faced from opting to use metal 3D printing as part of the overall process to produce the mould, the desired design outcomes could not have been achieved by solely adopting traditional mould-making techniques.

In recent times Robovoid has successfully produced Robovoid Components in small batches using this prototype injection moulding tool. At the end of the day, Stehle and Olding believe they now have a better tool design and production process to move forward with, and to take the learnings from their wider R&D program to produce version two of the tool in the near future.

Overcoming metrology bottlenecks in additive manufacturing

Metrology is becoming a critical area of focus in additive manufacturing as it moves towards becoming a serious production technology. The nature of the process and the surface characteristics it produces create challenges for many metrology tools. By Eric Felkel of ZYGO Corporation.

Undoubtedly there are many benefits associated with the use of additive manufacturing (AM) as a production technology. Across industries, manufacturers exploit the fact that with AM they can not only build complex parts in one piece that were previously impossible, but they can also build stronger, lighter-weight parts, reduce material consumption, and benefit from assembly component consolidation across a range of applications.

These advantages have been well documented over the last 10-20 years, as AM has emerged as atruly disruptive technology for not just prototyping but also production. They are invariably seen as being enabled by the additive hardware that builds the parts. In reality, this is a partial picture, particularly for serial production applications of AM. The hardware systems are just one part – albeit a vital one – of an extensive ecosystem of technologies that enable AM, both pre- and post-build.

Of unique importance today is the role of post-process metrology to validate the integrity of AM builds. One specific reason for this importance is that many parts produced by AM today end up in safety-critical applications where end-use functionality is of vital importance. The nature and relative roughness of AM surfaces, whether analysing individual layers within a build, or the surface of a finished part render conventional metrology solutions somewhat impotent. Recent developments from ZYGO are allowing hitherto unattainable metrology results that are being used to enhance the use of AM as a production technology by making validation protocols more efficient.

Metrology and additive manufacturing

Richard Leach, Professor in Metrology at the University of Nottingham in the UK, has been working with ZYGO on a number of projects related to the use of metrology in AM. Leach believes the issue of metrology is crucial to the success of AM as it begins to establish itself as a true production technology.

“There is absolutely no doubt that inadequate metrology solutions are a huge obstacle to overcome if AM is to be used as a viable production technology across industry,” says Leach. “Basically, as we stand today, there is a lack of clarity as to the precise nature of defects that you get when undertaking an AM build, and you also have little idea how they may cause problems in terms of part functionality. We don’t have a detailed enough map of how the topography of the defects and the anomalies that you get during the AM process propagate through to the part in an end-use scenario.

Leach offers the example of a turbine blade being made in an AM layering process, and where a blip occurs in the topography in layer four.

“This layer will in-time be covered up, so its characteristics will be fundamentally different by the time the finished part is complete,” he explains. “And it is at this moment impossible to know – without the clarity that good metrology provides – whether the blip is in fact still there when the build is complete, and if so, if it was actually significant in the first place. Essentially, we are working on, but still haven’t completely solved, the problem of understanding what issues you get on the surface and under the surface when using AM, and how these relate to product functionality.

“Therefore, it is difficult to predict the mechanical properties, the thermal processes, the fatigue properties, etc … from the types of structures we are seeing post-process. Defect-function analysis may allow us to move towards controlled AM by just stopping the process when things go wrong, as right now we spend hours building a part that may in fact have a problem in layer one.”

Despite these challenges, many companies are already using advanced AM successfully for the production of critical parts and components, often in aerospace applications where part failure is not an option. To ensure that these AM-produced parts conform fully with design intent, part suppliers undertake far more mechanical testing and metrology verification than they would normally employ for conventional manufacturing processes.

Manufacturers are forced out of necessity to focus on process development and throw all the validation resources they can to ‘prove’ the integrity of the finished AM part. This latter is effectively a belt-and-braces approach, relying on Gage R&R reproducibility and repeatability as a stand-in for a more rigorous measurement uncertainty approach when evaluating the integrity and functional characteristics of AM parts. The current solution is what could be termed ‘extreme-testing’.

“Everyone blames the confusion on a lack of standards for measuring AM parts, but this is not where attention should be focussed,” Leach comments. “You cannot develop standards if you don’t have the correct measurement technology in place to start with. Standards being developed without the technology solution ready to use are actually worse than no standards at all.

“That is why the emphasis with ZYGO and other metrology instrument suppliers is on adapting metrology solutions to make them better aligned with the unique characteristics of the AM process and AM end-use parts. In the respect of standards, our focus today is on producing a Good Practice Guide showing OEMs what metrology solutions are in place today, and how to get the best results from these when applied to AM surfaces, and setting the instrument up in the best way to understand the data.”

ZYGO – Coherence scanning interferometry for AM

A key focus in the area of metrology for AM is to reduce the time and cost inefficiencies inherent today of relying on a vast range of duplicated and often inadequate metrology steps to validate that an end-use part is fit for purpose. As Leach works on this vital area, he is involved with a number of metrology instrument suppliers using a variety of measurement technologies. ZYGO is perceived to be a trusted supplier with nearly 50 years of history in the ultra-precise metrology regime.

“For post-process metrology, a number of alternatives exist including confocal and focus variation, and ZYGO’s coherence scanning interferometry (CSI),” says Leach. “Initially it was thought that CSI was not suitable to the vagaries of post-process AM parts (with their unusual surface roughness). But ZYGO enhanced its CSI instruments by introducing new ways of playing with the optical light source, illumination conditions, and detection conditions, which led to the attainment of high-quality results with extremely rough and complex AM surfaces. I have to admit that before looking in depth at the ZYGO CSI solutions, even I thought that they probably wouldn’t be able to be applied to AM parts, but it actually works extremely well.”

Leach’s initial work with CSI, which informed his early view of the inappropriateness of the technology for AM super-rough surface metrology, was based on CSI from an alternative supplier other than ZYGO. The CSI instrument his work was initially focussed on was a CSI instrument in terms of its basic measurement principle, but it differed from the ZYGO system in terms of hardware, firmware and data analysis.

Using data from the alternative CSI solution provider, Leach and his team at Nottingham concluded that interferometry was fundamentally not suitable for AM metrology, because the example instrument failed to capture most of the highly irregular topographic features. However, by then ZYGO had already solved this problem with the introduction of its Nexview instrument in 2014. It is the Nexview technology that Leach and ZYGO work on together today, and which is now accepted to be a strong and viable AM metrology tool.

The Nexview instrument and its sister product the NewView include a package of innovative hardware and software upgrades referred to at ZYGO as ‘MoreData’ technology, which have made the instrument much better suited to AM parts.

“We installed a NewView 8300 instrument at Nottingham in October 2016,” Leach recounts. “Measurements made at Nottingham as well as at ZYGO’s headquarters in the US on AM surfaces conclusively demonstrated that ZYGO’s CSI implementation was well suited to the task. The ZYGO system is arguably a reference standard today for AM metrology, and other research groups have confirmed its superior capabilities. Today, we work with ZYGO’s Nexview optical surface profiler.”

The ‘MoreData’ capability has been part of ZYGO’s complete product line (including ZeGage and NewView optical profilers, and the Nexview system) for several years now and has been shown to be one of the most successful technology developments for the product line. ‘MoreData’ significantly improves the baseline sensitivity of CSI and enables high-dynamic range (HDR) operation, making it valuable for a wide range of parts, from steeply sloped smooth parts to exceptionally rough textures with poor reflectivity. Additionally, HDR is able to measure parts with a wide range of reflectance, often a struggle for other CSI instruments. HDR is unique to ZYGO, meaning that an alternative implementation of CSI may not be able to achieve the performance on AM parts that ZYGO can provide.

Today, the focus is on using the ZYGO HDR CSI technology to undertake surface texture analysis and to attempt to better understand its links with the AM production process.

Leach concludes: “My work with ZYGO is centred around understanding precisely how the CSI instrument works, and accurately modelling it for AM applications. At the moment, the issue is that AM surfaces are so different from what we are used to in terms of the raw surface and the post-processed surface that there is no standardised way of measuring and characterising these surfaces. We are working with ZYGO to ensure that we continue to optimise metrology solutions for the increasingly important area of AM for production scenarios.”

Eric Felkel is a Product Manager for Optical Profilers at Zygo Corporation.

Guhring additive tool cuts costs for aerospace subcontractor

Working closely with companies like Rolls-Royce, Collins Aerospace, Safran, Bombardier, ITP Aero, Marshall and Incora, XCEL Aerospace is a subcontract manufacturer with an aerospace pedigree that few in the supply chain can match. Offering services from CNC machining, fabrication, assembly, additive manufacturing, kitting and even its own range of braided leads, the UK-based  manufacturer is an integral part of the supply chain for many aerospace OEMs.

To retain its position as a key supplier to the aerospace industry, XCEL invests heavily in the latest technology and innovation to ensure cost-effective manufacturing of high-quality precision components. As part of this drive to ensure cost-effective manufacturing, the company recently invited tooling manufacturer Guhring to review the machining process on an aerospace valve component. The problem for XCEL was the cost-efficiency of its existing Woodruff type cutters that were being used to machine a cast aluminium component with a 9% silicon content.

The previous solid carbide Woodruff cutter consisted of three teeth on a 21.7mm diameter tool, which was both expensive with relatively poor tool life. Only capable of cutting 10 components before tool replacement, the abrasive high-silicone-content aluminium was creating productivity, cost and surface finish issues for the aerospace experts. With two batch types, the manufacturer is machining over 100 parts per month of this long-term project – a figure high enough to cause concern over tool life and productivity.

Invited to investigate the situation by XCEL’s Engineering and Machine Shop Manager Alan French, Guhring’s Regional Sales Manager Dewar McKinlay offered an innovative solution.

“We explained to XCEL that Guhring has a new method of manufacturing PCD tools by printing them on a MarkForged Metal X 3D printing machine,” McKinlay says. “We made the point that the benefits were the rapid production time in manufacturing these tools. Additionally, this method gives us the design flexibility to produce any tool design we desire.

“Firstly, we printed a plastic tool to demonstrate the 3D-printing concept tool to the customer. We then made a three-flute tool that was similar to the current tool but with brazed PCD tips. Despite the PCD tips lasting considerably longer on the abrasive high-silicone aluminium than the previous tool, we wanted to go further.”

The design flexibility Guhring now has with its 3D printing facility enabled the company’s engineers to internally develop an enhanced design within a matter of weeks. The new design increased the number of cutting edges from three to five, allowing XCEL to increase the feed rate to significantly reduce production times while extending tool life.

Quantifying the benefits

Manufactured from H13 tool steel, the tool body of the 3D-printed Woodruff cutter has a 13mm diameter shank with a 70mm overall length and the identical 21.7mm diameter at the cutting edge. The difference is evident in the performance, cost and productivity improvements.

“This aerospace part is a long-running project for XCEL and we have increased tool life beyond comprehension,” says KcKinlay. “The previous solid carbide tool was worn and required a changeover after 10 parts, we have machined more than 180 parts with our new 3D-printed PCD Woodruff cutter and it is still performing well. This is giving the customer a significant tool cost saving whilst reducing the down-time and inconvenience of changeovers.”

From a design perspective, additive manufacturing is extending the realms of what is possible. As McKinlay states: “Putting five cutting edges on a 21.7mm diameter Woodruff tool with a solid carbide body would create significant manufacturing challenges. The main benefits of printed tools are we can produce multiple designs very quickly, in this instance evolving from a three-flute to a five-flute tool in a matter of weeks.

“The cost saving comes from the reduced production time to make the printed tools compared to solid body tools, something we can pass on to the customer. Another benefit with the printed tool is it can be retipped. This reduces the cost of the tool further, as the body can be reused, whereas the solid carbide tool is disposed of.”

Personalised nutrition smart patch to be developed in Australia

A wearable smart patch designed and manufactured in Australia will deliver precision data to help people personalise their diets and reduce their risk of lifestyle-related chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes.

The world-first personalised nutrition wearable patch being developed by Melbourne-based start-up Nutromics painlessly measures key dietary biomarkers and sends the information to an app, enabling users to precisely track their bodies’ response to different foods. A collaborative team led by Nutromics, RMIT University, Griffith University, and established medical device manufacturer Romar Engineering, with support from the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), is now developing the capabilities required to pilot manufacture the device.

Diabetes is one of the largest chronic health challenges globally, but with early interventions and lifestyle changes, the condition is often preventable. Nutromics co-CEO Peter Vranes said the smart patch leverages emerging technologies to empower people to take greater control of their health: “Research has shown that what we eat affects us all differently; two people might have the same meal but their post-meal response can vary wildly. People want to make healthy food choices but with so much conflicting nutrition advice, many of us are confused. Being able to easily monitor key dietary biomarkers will give you the knowledge to personalise your diet to suit your own body, get healthy and stay healthy.”

The smart patch combines a complex sensing platform and stretchable electronics for improved conformity to skin. The fabrication of sample collection will be led by Griffith University and Romar Engineering, with sensor integration and stretchable electronics fabrication undertaken at RMIT’s cutting-edge Micro Nano Research Facility.

Professor Sharath Sriram, Research Co-Director of RMIT’s Functional Materials & Microsystems Research Group, said RMIT researchers would integrate the technologies in a prototype smart patch manufactured via roll-to-roll (R2R) printing.

“This smart patch is a significant evolution in wearable health monitoring technology,” he said. “Current wearable technologies can track your heart rate and steps, but they can’t monitor your health at a molecular level. This technology goes deeper, targeting the precise biomarkers that drive lifestyle-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes.”

David Chuter, CEO and Managing Director at the IMCRC, said the project would build Australia’s capability in medical technologies manufacturing and improve the competitiveness, productivity and sustainability of the advanced manufacturing sector: “The manufacturing challenges addressed by this project will not only help deliver a low-cost, high-tech smart patch, but will also create technologies that are transferable to other Australian companies in the consumer and medical tech space.”

Alan Lipman, CEO of Romar, said collaboration was the way forward for Australian manufacturing: “Working with entrepreneurs, academics and researchers to develop new medical technologies is essential to maintain Australia’s international competitiveness and to build a strong domestic manufacturing skills base.”

Locally made COVID swabs end Australian overseas reliance

Melbourne-based 3D Printing Studios has been working with state governments and health departments to produce medical nasal and throat swabs used in COVID-19 test kits.

The process of developing a swab that not only collects the mucus but also allows for the mucus to be transferred for testing has taken several weeks to develop.

“We tried several different 3D-printed designs obtained from Harvard Medical School and finally came up with a simple design that is flocked with a safe nylon material,” said Howard Wood & Stuart Grover, joint-CEOs and founders of 3D Printing Studios. “The design, coupled with the EOS P 396 industrial 3D printer for plastic parts will allow us to produce thousands of these medical swabs per day.”

South Australian Pathology has tested the latest 3D printed swabs and has given the green light on their use. This makes 3D Printing Studios the only Australian company to manufacture medical nasal swabs, essential products in the fight against COVID-19. This will reduce the need to import these vital products while bringing manufacturing back to Australia.

Made to measure: 3D-printed medical implants for joint and musculoskeletal patients

Media outlets frequently run stories detailing how uniquely designed 3D-printed parts implanted into patients are offering a welcome, ‘never-before-available’ solution to medical problems.

These stories have featured items such as a 3D-printed prosthetic jaw designed by the patient’s own doctor; spinal parts to support fractured or damaged vertebrae; a patient-specific sternum, and so on. These are just some of the phenomenal achievements 3D printing technology can bring to suffering patients. Becoming increasingly aware of solutions they can offer their patients, doctors are embracing the technology, applying their own knowledge of anatomy, using the latest imaging technology, and working with CAD designers to construct unique parts for their patient. What we are really talking about is a world of ‘customised body parts’ – customised because all human beings are unique and no one size fits all!

More common implants occur for hips and knees, but here, most replacement parts used in operations come in a standard size and form. Injuries to knee and hip joints generally arise as a result of musculoskeletal trauma from accidents, sports injuries, improper training practices or when a person is not sufficiently warmed up or stretched in readiness to undertake their exercise regime or compete in an event. These can be acute injuries that require immediate treatment. Chronic injuries arise from overuse of one part of a particular joint or simply due to the aging process.

Hip replacement is common practice with the Federal Government, through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), monitoring implants since 1999 – specifically of metal-on-metal (MoM) parts such as hip replacements. Interestingly, problems appear to arise in complete hip replacements, where the size of one part does not suit the patient, the ‘standard’ part either being too large or too small. Surgical procedures associated with hip implants have been revised, resulting in better outcomes, but the situation negates the emerging opportunities of making patient-specific implants using 3D printing technology.

Another advantage of 3D printing that will overcome secondary issues cited by the TGA, is by printing in titanium, specifically Tu6Al4V, a safe, lightweight material. This is replacing products made using chromium and cobalt, which are known to produce undesired side effects due to metal ions entering the body’s blood stream.

Advances in titanium hip replacement parts are numerous. Recently, SLM Solutions, a manufacturer of 3D metal printers headquartered in Lübeck, Germany, entered a strategic partnership with Canwell Medical, a leading medical device manufacturer based in China that supplies 30 countries across Asia, the Americas and Europe. SLM Solutions has supported the installation of metal 3D printing laser systems by providing technical training along with assistance on research and development.

Jerry Ma, General Manager of SLM Solutions Asia Pacific, indicated: “Laser melting technology and medical is an important application field. Our global experience accumulation and innovation will help us develop China’s medical field.”

SLM’s unique technology applies complex geometries that guide multiple lasers selectively melting deposition powder layer by layer, resulting in densities as high as 99.9%, highly suitable and safe for orthopaedic hip implants. A recent example produced on an SLM 280 twin laser system are acetabular cups. These items are usually built in a ‘standard’ size but offer distinct advantages. The technology allows the structuring of a porous or lattice structured exterior surface that directly facilitates ‘osseointegration’, the connection between living bone and the surface of a load-bearing artificial implant – a distinct achievement for long-term patient outcomes.

According to a study by public health researchers at Monash University, hip replacements are predicted to rise from 25,945 in 2013 to 79,790 by 2030. This has become a ready-made market for an innovative Australian manufacturer. In addition, hip replacement parts are small and easy to ship, providing a real possibility of tapping into an overseas market such as the USA, where more than 300,000 hip replacement surgeries occur annually.

Knee replacement, or knee arthroplasty, is a surgical procedure replacing those parts in the knee joint that bear weight and cause pain in patients. Knees are a complex ‘hinge’ joint that bends and straightens with movement. However, the complexity lies in the way the bone surfaces glide and roll each time a knee bends. Knee issues commonly arise from rheumatoid or osteoarthritis, and can be exacerbated by obesity; irrespective of the issue, a great deal of pain is often experienced.

While a range of medical options are available to ‘fix’ the problem, knee replacement is quite a common surgical solution. Surgery using standard knee replacement implants can result in a ‘nearly right’ fit. Surgeons are provided with a box of assorted sizes, male or female-specific, from which they can select. Guided by both image scans and a view of the damage, a suitable selection is often possible. However, an off-the-shelf knee implant may have an overhang or underhang if slightly too large or small, leaving patient outcomes less comfortable than desirable.

In a complete knee replacement operation, three parts are usually replaced: a femoral component that wraps around the femur, a tibia component and a patella component. A CoCr28Mo6 femoral knee implant has been developed using selective laser melting on an SLM 280 twin laser system. The company’s flagship system, the mid-sized SLM 280 twin selective laser melting system is equipped with a twin laser configuration of 2 x 400W or 2 x 700W, and a bi-directional loader to increase build rates in the 280mm-by-280mm build chamber.

The complex software geometries afford integrating a functional lattice structure to assist with implant retention. The item can be produced in multiples as standard replacements but the flexibility in the geometry and build capability offers a cost-effective advantage of producing a patient specific component. Aside from productivity and cost advantages, a further advantage exists in using an SLM 280 twin laser system as the item can be used for a ‘unicondylar’ knee replacement, a partial replacement where damage is confined to only one section.

The number of Australians undergoing knee surgery for full or partial replacement has risen by some 38% since 2005-6. Records indicate in the period from 2016-17, there were 53,148 knee replacements carried out in Australia on persons over the age of 18. To meet this rapidly expanding market, support, training and advice are available for manufacturers of medical equipment from SLM Solutions.

Opportunities for series production of acetabular cups and intervertebral fusion cages are just some examples of what can be achieved. SLM Solutions undertakes research and exploration projects to improve and enhance their machine offerings, and in developing the all-important process parameters to support users. For example, updates continue on 60-micron process parameters for titanium alloy to print acetabular cups. With knee replacement parts, development of 60-micron process parameters in cobalt-chromium alloy continues.

Another area into which SLM Solutions’ laser systems are moving is in the development of craniomaxillofacial (CMF) implants. These items are patient-specific, designed and produced for an individual who needs repair or restructure following trauma or illness resulting at times in psychosocial consequences. A number of these implants have been designed and constructed for individual patients. Computerised tomography (CT)-scanned images allow accurate development of computer programs utilising complex geometries. Using lightweight titanium and built in an SLM 125 system, SLM Solutions has managed to develop implants that fit and support functionality, demonstrating that it is possible to produce reliable patient-matched customised items economically and effectively.

SLM Solutions understands the importance of quality assurance and process documentation to qualify the production of biomedical components and is willing to share knowledge and best practice procedures to ensure success in using an SLM laser system. Queensland University recently posted a report regarding the need for standards and regulations to be instituted to meet medical and surgical regulations. Custom-made devices are exempt from stringent testing and documentation, but the situation requires some form of monitoring.

A recent example of producing a medical device occurred where SLM, working closely with Forecast3D, a European service bureau, produced a surgical instrument overnight to be used for an orthopaedic shoulder replacement surgery. Using minimal material – 17-4PH stainless steel – and no wastage as waste metal powder is harvested and reused, and with a build of 30-micron layer thickness, the complex construction provided an ideal answer.

This case provides an example of shifting additive manufacturing strategies in today’s world of fast, on-demand, customised products. While the introduction of regulations is at the discussion stage, it will be important that flexibility is not hindered and innovation encouraged, perhaps within a loose set of parameters. Nonetheless, right now in 2020, after a pandemic and its economic fallout, opportunities exist to enter or expand this exciting aspect of the medical market both locally and internationally, using selective laser melting systems.

Bosch Australia

Many of us have experienced

RAM3D – Bringing additive manufacturing to medical

Additive manufacturing has the potential to become a game-changer for the medical industry. From its base in Tauranga, New Zealand, 3D metal printing service provider RAM3D has worked on a number of different projects in the sector that demonstrate the techology’s potential. By Gilly Hawker.

Printing ventilator parts for COVID-19

RAM3D became an essential supplier to the medical industry during the lockdown period. This project was a combined effort involving RAM3D, Doctor Andrew Robinson of Lakes District Health Board, and Kilwell Fibretube Engineering, who have been involved in reverse engineering and prototyping. The parts RAM3D were asked to 3D print were for an anaesthesia machine that was being converted to an intensive care ventilator for COVID-19. RAM3D successfully redesigned the valve (bridge) and will be full-scale manufacturing the part.

The key aspects of the design were that it had to be simple to install and needed to have limited risk of failure; it was imperative there was no leakage through the seals during operation.

RAM3D was sent the original CAD file of the part; it was made up of two pieces and had been designed for CNC manufacturing. After several failed attempts to 3D print the functional parts, the team at RAM3D decided to redesign the part as a single piece that required no further assembly. The successful prototype had a simpler design and required very little post-processing.

The bridge parts were printed in Titanium 64 (medical-grade alloy) as this is RAM3D’s choice of powder for medical projects. They were quick to install and conversion only took two minutes, including testing.

The Maquet Flow-i anaesthesia machines from Gettinge Group are underutilised in many hospitals world-wide. Consequently this project could potentially increase the number of ventilated beds in intensive care units (ICU). There are 7,000 of these Maquet Flow-i anaesthesia units installed globally and most of the machines are in Europe.

Asked about the project, Dr Andrew Robinson remarked: “In this instance 3D printing provides a simple, quick to innovate and cost-effective method of manufacture. It is very important to note that fused deposition modeling (FDM)-style printers (the most common around the world) are not well suited for this device.”

Custom titanium implants for veterinary surgery

Since 2013 RAM3D has been metal 3D printing surgical instruments, prosthetic limbs, sleep apnoea parts, and human and animal implants. RAM3D trialled its first artificial dog jawbone in mid-2013, working with a design company Axia and Massey University vet surgeons to save the life of a boxer dog with aggressive mouth cancer.

The vets take the CT scans of the animal and send them to the design company to create a 3D CAD model, and this is sent to RAM3D to be printed. The turnaround time is quick, and the implant is then sent back to the vets at Massey to complete the surgery. The titanium jawbone was printed on a Tuesday, fitted to the dog on a Wednesday, and 12 hours later the animal was eating happily.

RAM3D prints in Grade 5 Titanium 64 because it is the most widely used titanium alloy in biomedical implants, where high strength is required. Titanium is the perfect metal to make human and animal body parts because it physically bonds with the bone. Once the implant is inserted, natural tissue and bone form over the titanium replica. Because of its durability, titanium implants can last up to 20 years inside the human body. Titanium is not magnetic and does not interfere with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment. It also has a higher strength-to-weight ratio – it is stronger and lighter than stainless steel.

RAM3D have printed hundreds of dog and cat implants, including leg and hip bones. More recently it provided an implant for Kora, a Land Search & Rescue (LANDSAR) dog in training. Kora was getting close to becoming certified when Nick (Kora’s handler and operational field member with LANDSAR) noticed her performance had dropped off and she was a bit lame. In Nick’s own words, “like any performance athlete, injury for a working dog is a high probability”.

After a visit to the vet, Nick was told she would need some surgery on her lower back; the damage was done between the last disc of her spine and sacrum. The surgery was a success; Nick was surprised she walked out of the clinic straight after her operation, and even though she was a bit sad and heavily medicated, he knew it wouldn’t be long until she was back to her normal self. She is now fully mobile and raring to go.

Production potential

RAM3D knows that metal 3D printing is a competitive production technology with an unprecedented potential for industry. The team at RAM3D work with companies to improve the design of production parts, and 3D printing them makes them more efficient and cost-effective.

The diversity of parts RAM3D manufactures ranges from titanium knives used by the Team NZ America’s Cup crew, to customised handlebar extensions for the New Zealand Olympics Cycling Team, as well as Oceania Defence’s Inconel and titanium suppressors for military operations.

Over the last three years, the company has seen a big shift from prototyping to full production work. To keep up with customer demand, it now has a total of seven printers in its growing facility. The team have seen an unprecedented increase in both large and smaller companies interested in trying 3D metal printing as an alternative to other forms of manufacturing. This is possibly because of having time to work on projects during the COVID-19 lockdown.

RAM3D has more than 10 years’ experience in the additive manufacturing industry. Its services includes metal 3D printing, and consultation on design for additive manufacturing. It can print in stainless steel 15-5ph and 316L, titanium 64, Inconel 718 (high temp alloy) and aluminium (AISi10Mg)

AM Hub announces automotive aftermarket partnerships

AMTIL’s Additive Manufacturing Hub (AM Hub) has welcomed two major new members: the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association (AAAA) and the Automotive Innovation Centre (AIC).

Founded in 1980, the AAAA is a national industry association representing Australia’s automotive aftermarket, including manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers of automotive parts and accessories, tools and equipment. The AAAA also provides vehicle service, repair and modification services in Australia. With 2,250 members ranging from large multi-national corporations to small and medium-sized businesses, the AAAA hosts the Australian Auto Aftermarket Expo and the Australian Auto Aftermarket Awards, offers input on government policy, and publishes nine Australian Auto Aftermarket magazines each year.

The AAAA developed the idea for the AIC in 2013 and, having secured grant funding from the Government in 2018, two sites were opened in Australia, one in Victoria and one in South Australia, after these states witnessed the closure of two large auto manufacturing sites.

The AIC boasts three 3D printers that offer three different technologies – MJF, SLA, and FDM – and therefore three different capabilities. Each printer has a unique strength: one is best for larger volumes; one excels with incredibly detailed smaller parts; and one is perfect for very strong parts. This means the AIC can provide a more flexible service offering that is better suited to each customer’s application needs.

“We are proud to offer to companies all of the benefits of our newly established additive manufacturing facility,” said AIC Managing Director Luke Truskinger. “The AIC is looking forward to assisting more companies with their innovative projects. Certainly, having the only colour HP MJF printer in Australia allows us to provide a niche service to those with boutique requirements.

“We are also getting ready to run training courses on additive manufacturing to help keep the industry abreast of the new technologies and even help them to add additive manufacturing capability to their own company if they so wish.

“Here at the AIC, we are very pleased to be partnering with the AM Hub and look forward to connecting with and helping more Victorian companies to reach their goals through the use of innovative additive manufacturing technology.”

John Croft, AM Hub manager, welcomed the AAAA and the AIC, and is eagerly anticipating working with Truskinger and AAAA CEO Stuart Charity.

“We are looking forward to collaborating with the AAAA and the AIC to further encourage the use of additive in automation,” said Croft. “New technologies such as additive lay the path for an exciting future for the automotive aftermarket industry. We aim to further support the expansion of the automotive aftermarket products manufactured by businesses that specialise in advanced manufacturing in Australia.”