How 3D printing makes McLaren go faster

Since its founding by Bruce McLaren in 1963, McLaren Racing has relied on state-of-the-art manufacturing technology, so it was no surprise when it teamed up with Stratasys to push its use of additive manufacturing (AwM) to the next level.

The competitive nature of Formula 1 (F1) racing pushes teams to develop the best solutions possible in their quest to reach the winner’s circle. Using tools like AM, F1 racing has become an inspiration to other enterprises on how to maintain the lead in their own industry.

In F1, every gram of weight is critical. But simply cutting weight is not the only thing the McLaren team has to watch out for. The safety of the driver is of utmost importance as well. For this reason, it’s crucial for engineers to ensure they are meticulous in their approach regarding how loadbearing features of the car’s suspension are bonded together. Too much adhesive and the car will be slower, giving the other teams a chance to pull ahead. Too little adhesive is not an option either.

In one clever example, McLaren printed clear surrogate suspension parts to practice the bonding process. The clear material lets technicians see how the adhesive spreads when parts are pressed together and provides visibility to the integrity of the bond joint – something that’s not possible with opaque materials. They can refine the technique with the right amount of adhesive, safeguarding against an insufficient amount but also eliminating excess weight.

By taking advantage of the VeroUltraClear material on the Stratasys J850 PolyJet printer, McLaren successfully used transparent 3D-printed test parts to ensure their bonding processes are accurate before the final components enter production. Using AM for innovative solutions like this helps McLaren finetune manufacturing processes, reducing costs.

“This tool allows us to quickly verify the bonding process integrity between a composite suspension wishbone and its mating metal end fitting,” says Neil Oatley, Design & Development Director at McLaren. “Using AM, rather than machining metal or polymer, allows us to achieve a component quickly with less personnel involved. Less time, fewer people, less material, less wastage.”

The J850 printer enables McLaren to create high-resolution wind tunnel models for aerodynamic research. The technical team uses them to make small mechanical adjustments to prototyped parts. This results in a race-ready car faster than testing iterations on full production vehicle components. Using PolyJet technology gives McLaren the ability to reduce time from initial design to physical part, and offers something other technologies cannot – flexible, durable parts.

The flexibility of certain PolyJet materials allows the team to make small mechanical adjustments in the wind tunnel to find ideal solutions without having to rebuild the parts. Using GrabCAD Print software, engineers can vary the stiffness of different regions of the model. This adjustability reduces time spent producing and finishing parts for the wind tunnel and allows more time for designing and testing.

“Speed is as crucial off the track as it is on the track,” says Piers Thynne, Executive Director – Operations at McLaren Racing. “An F1 car is made up of around 16,000 parts and on average, one part is upgraded every 15 minutes, so speed of production is really key. From the traditional first race of the season in Australia to the final race in Abu Dhabi, we expect 85% of the designed parts of the car to change. It is a constant race against time not only on the track but in the factory too.”

Printing production parts

Like other race teams, McLaren uses composites for aerodynamic parts of their racecars because they’re lightweight but strong. In some cases, however, there isn’t time to fabricate these parts due to the hours required to make new lay-up tools and cure the composite material. The need for alternative parts that are light but strong and stiff led McLaren to employ 3D printing instead, using FDM Nylon 12CF material. This composite thermoplastic contains chopped carbonfibre, resulting in parts with exceptional strength and rigidity. Although traditional composites may result in a lighter part in some cases, the time savings afforded by 3D printing makes the extra weight worth it.

In one example, McLaren was able to go from CAD model to physical part in just five days, for a task that previously took 29 days. Instead of racing with inadequate parts on their car for numerous races, engineers were able to have optimised 3D-printed parts on the vehicle for the next week’s race. 3D printing saved approximately 25% in cost compared with traditional counterparts. This improved workflow means McLaren can replace critical components in time for the next race, increasing overall performance and reducing expenses.

Composite 3D-printed parts must go through McLaren’s rigorous quality tests just like their traditional counterparts. The value of 3D printing and GrabCAD Print software is the ability to adjust print settings as needed to optimise the part, and makes it extremely easy to assign different toolpaths to individual portions of the CAD model. GrabCAD Print works with all common CAD formats and allows users to leave manufacturing notes on the part to help with communication between engineers and machine operators.

The bottom line: Cost

For many manufacturing businesses, time is important but ultimately cost is king. McLaren F1 has found that 3D printing production parts turns the economics completely on its head. It’s not only faster to print, but in some circumstances, it’s cheaper. The reason lies in the fact that by eliminating tooling from the manufacturing process, a major source of cost has also been removed.

This was the case in the development of front brake ducts that help channel air into the braking system and manage the flow entering the front of the car. These parts not only resulted in a 60% faster lead time but were also 86% cheaper.

F1 cars are noted for their aerodynamic features. They enhance performance by providing additional downforce to keep the car stable, create dirty air to disturb competitors’ cars, and cool heat-critical components. However, when the car isn’t moving, certain components still need airflow. Since the vehicles do not have large radiator fans like those found in production automobiles, they need forced supplemental airflow when the car is parked.

McLaren cools the rear of the engine bay using 3D-printed parts. They’re used when the car is stationary, such as when in the garage, between practice runs, or prior to the start of the race. To neatly interface with an electric fan inlet, McLaren prints parts that mate appropriately into the original design of the car. This keeps the engine and its airflow-dependent components from overheating and damage. McLaren produces only two or three sections of their duct design per year. Instead of resorting to traditional manufacturing processes such as composite assembly or metal fabrication, they save time and expense by 3D printing them.

“Essentially this allows us to build a very complex part quickly and without tooling,” Oatley explains. “We can iterate design details to hone in on the best-performing ergonomic solution very quickly without investing in multiple tooling options to arrive at a final design, before we commit to long term production composite components.”


Every profession has specialised tools, with equally specialised price tags. F1 racing is no different. One such tool is the wheel gun, which removes and installs the car’s tires during a pitstop faster than you can blink. This tool needs to function efficiently and repeatedly since the average pitstop is about 2.5 seconds. In F1, a few extra milliseconds during a pitstop can mean dropping position or losing the race entirely. It’s a critical piece of pit hardware and needs to be protected. But it also has to be ergonomic to allow the tire changers to do their job smoothly and without strain.

To achieve both goals, McLaren 3D printed a custom wheel gun shell. Rugged FDM thermoplastic material prevents the expensive electropneumatic gun from being damaged as it’s moved around the pit area. Along with that, 3D printing’s design freedom lets McLaren configure the shell for maximum comfort and usability.

It’s a perfect example of how FDM technology is a good fit for tooling, satisfying multiple objectives: protection for equipment; lightweighting for easier usability; and easy customisation for ergonomic comfort and safety. This type of application is not limited to tool covers, but also fixtures such as conformal soft jaws and testing equipment. McLaren has learned the only thing that limits the application is the imagination.

Some of the more difficult parts to make on F1 cars are composite tubes and ducts. Fabricating these parts usually requires complex tools or clamshell moulds. But both methods have drawbacks and in some cases, the parts can’t even be made with traditional tooling. In this situation, McLaren uses sacrificial cores to make the parts. The soluble core forms a mould of the duct’s internal shape, and is 3D printed using ST-130 sacrificial tooling material. The mould is then wrapped in carbonfibre. Once the composite material is cured it’s immersed in a dissolution tank where the sacrificial mould dissolves, leaving behind the desired composite duct. This application is a fast, simple way to make small batches of custom, high-performance parts and is a great alternative to the time and cost of making traditional tooling.

McLaren maximises 3D printing’s capabilities to get better results and go faster. But it’s not some specialised technology limited to only F1 racing teams. Rather, it’s a tool that virtually any business in any industry can leverage to improve processes and ultimately, the bottom line. McLaren exemplifies how 3D printing benefits one company. But any business could just as easily reap the same advantages.

Additive Manufacturing Hub case study: AGCOM

AGCOM made use of 3D printing in the development of a prototype mobile processing machine for hemp crops, with assistance from AMTIL’s Additive Manufacturing Hub.

The hemp industry is worth more than US$3bn globally, and is expected to grow significantly over the coming years. The cultivation of industrial hemp was only legalised in Australia in 2017, and as a result our development of locally produced hemp fibre, seed, and oil-based products for global markets lags the rest of the world. Currently, the major constraint to market development in the Australian hemp industry is the lack of hemp processing facilities.

AGCOM was established in 2006 as an agricultural business. Over the years, AGCOM has been involved in the engineering, design and development of machinery for the primary industry sector. Within the hemp industry, AMCO has accumulated a solid base of technical knowledge and expertise in processing equipment, built up over many years through collaboration with partners from Canada, America, and Australia.

This knowledge has now been transferred to an engineering design for the development of a prototype mobile hemp processing machine (decorticator). The decortication process efficiently separates the short, woody interior fibres from the soft, long outer fibres of the hemp plant, each of which are used in the manufacture of a diverse range of industrial and consumer products.

The challenge

The project involved the design and development of a mobile hemp decorticator for transportation to and on-farm use within cropping regions around south-eastern Australia. The equipment’s mobility will enable the stalks of freshly harvested hemp crops to be separated into their long and short fibres and processed on-farm. The final system will be mounted onto a specialised trailer which can be moved from paddock to paddock and site to site.

A key feature of this versatile system is its non-reliance on mains power, which will avoid the double handling of the crop and the costs of its cartage to a processing facility, which, depending on the location, could be several hundred kilometres away. As the decorticator is connected to its own power supply, harvested hemp stalks can be processed in paddocks on farms with no access to electricity. Bypassing the double handling and transport of unprocessed hemp stalks also means that the long and short fibres separated by decortication can be shipped directly to businesses for manufacture into end-user products across multiple industries, including motor vehicle fit-out and in building and construction.

Most decorticators currently available can only process hemp stalks that have been pre-softened by retting. This is a naturally occurring microbial process that facilitates the separation of the long and short fibres when the harvested material is left in the paddock to partially decompose for several weeks prior to decortication. Retting greatly increases the time lag between harvesting and decortication, decreasing the value of the final product.

The project has been divided into three stages due to its size: feasibility; engineering design; and manufacturing. It is now in the second and most critical phase of design, with the aim of achieving a fully manufacturable system that can be commercialised.

A major constraint that AGMCOM faced was ensuring the final product was manufactured cost-effectively and identifying any needed adjustments and alterations to the design before fabrication. The initial concept engineering design has been developed and requires final adjustments to achieve the project’s objectives. The objective is to optimise the design by identifying any adverse product processing issues that could hinder the achievement of a high-performance system. The final design goal is the development of a cost-efficient processing system capable of extracting and separating long and short fibres from hemp stalks ready for use in various industrial and domestic applications.

The decorticator will be mounted on a truck and trailer combination, in compliance with national road dimension standards, enabling its transportation predominantly around south-eastern Australia. It is therefore essential that during the design phase the decorticator is created in accordance with these standards, which is why the 3D modelling and printing is such an important element in this process.

The solution

The major obstacle AGCOM needed to solve was ensuring there was space to enable the mobile machinery to process the material adequately. By 3D printing scale models of all the components, it was possible to establish the critical components and assimilate them to the finished machine. Although computer design provides informed mechanical structures, with all components having been 3D printed, AGCOM could identify major problems that need to be solved to achieve an efficient machinery process.

There are many examples of this, where critical components could be evaluated and all the engineers participating in the project were able to assess the fine detail. A good example of this was in the development of the three-rotor hemp crushing processor.

How the Additive Manufacturing Hub helped

Additive manufacturing has enabled AGCOM to bring the project forward to the end of its second phase. It helped all participating parties to conceptualise the final result, improving efficiency, accuracy, and communication. It also meant that AGCOM did not need to go to foundries to begin the design/manufacturing process from the ground up – which would have been both very costly and time-consuming.

By instead using the 3D printed model as guidance, AGCOM was able to order the required components and parts to begin manufacturing:

  • To evaluate critical design flaws prior to manufacture.
  • To evaluate occupation health & safety (OHS) issues.
  • To evaluate construction component options.

It has been possible to use additive manufactured parts have been able to be used to test the manufacturing process for the machine. In addition additive manufacturing enabled AGCOM to assess the ease of assembling each of the components into the machine, and of removing spare parts that are subject to wear and tear. Many variations of component options have been tested through 3D printing, allowing for rapid conclusions to be drawn, thus speeding up the full machine designs

The outcome

Through the use of additive manufacturing, AGCOM has been able to construct intricate parts and test them for clearances. In addition, fixing components could be printed, allowing testing for easy access and safety along with durability from the likelihood of wear and tear.

The final result is a completed 3D printed scale model of the mobile decorticator and its components. The AGCOM team and all participating parties now have clarity and understanding as to how the entire concept will come together. The scale model enables the team to demonstrate the concept to potential purchasers and users of the machine.

Medical applications extend the limits of 3D printing

It’s a safe bet that as time passes, the number of things you can additively manufacture and the ways in which you can do so will keep growing. One increasingly promising area is in the field of biofabrication.

After graduating as a materials engineer in the early 2000s and spending a decade working with newer production technologies such as 3D printing in the manufacturing industry, David Forrestal sought a career change and headed back to university for a PhD in tissue engineering. He graduated with a doctorate in 2019, developing new systems and methods for seeding living cells in 3D-printed bioresorbable polymer scaffolds – culturing cells and keeping them alive so a patient’s body can use them to restore tissue.

Nowadays, Forrestal is an Advanced Biomedical Engineer at Herston Biofabrication Institute, a multidisciplinary institute at Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) which officially opened in February. It focuses on 3D scanning, 3D modelling and 3D printing of medical devices, bone, cartilage and human tissue. It has programs based around orthopaedics; burns, skin & wounds; vascular & endovascular surgery; urology; cancer care; craniofacial; and anaesthesia & intensive care.

“We’re an institute, but we’re directly in the health system, with Queensland Health,” explains Forrestal, who says the work is about clinical impact rather than blue sky scientific projects. “We have an affiliation with the University of Queensland, but are focused on bringing new developments in biofabrication to benefit patients directly.”

Among its facilities, Herston has a tissue culture lab, mechanical workshop, scanning and visualisation equipment, and a bank of various kinds of 3D printers. Current projects range from “low-risk, ready-to-go now work”, such as anatomic models for surgical preparation on complicated fractures, to “more futuristic regenerative medicine techniques” involving organoids (lab-grown tissue grown from stem cells that is able to perform some of the functions of a full organ, which is therefore interesting for drug development and testing.)

“From 3D printed surgical models to custom surgical guides to place drill-holes,” adds Forrestal. “And custom 3D-printed devices to change the shape of a radiation beam to dose a tumour more effectively, in a more focussed way, with fewer side effects. A workflow is currently set up for that.”

As with most facilities with a collection of printers, each of Herston’s machines plays a different role.  While not appropriate for biocompatible devices, their continuous fibre composite printer, for example, has great potential with external devices, such as splints and prosthetics, where a patient’s body has to be held in a certain way to help restore mechanical function.

“The reason it’s so good is you’ve got other techniques, but none of them really match up to the stiffness and strength you get with the Markforged, especially when you’ve got the reinforcing fibre,” Forrestal explains. “It can bridge a gap between making a much more complex, assembled device with lots of metal reinforcement or even having to go and CNC something. That’s really the niche I see for that within our organisation.”

The ‘horses for courses’ nature of 3D printing –an umbrella term for an array of technology families that are each themselves quite broad – can get missed by non-users. Throughout his work, Forrestal has used 3D printing for everything from tissue regeneration research to prototyping as a product design engineer at a major plumbing company.

In a quirk of his academic career, his most-cited paper is on melt extrusion 3D printing with chocolate, based on a group project for a science expo. He and a student designed a heated jacket that could accommodate large-diameter syringes, with open-source slicing software, control software and an XYZ stage.

“It was just a controlled way of pushing material out of a syringe in a robotically controlled pattern and then keeping it at the right temperature,” he recalls. “You could actually use that same printer as a bioprinter. You can mix in a hydrogel with live cells and you could do your bioprinting.”

Since its beginnings in the 1980s, 3D printing has burgeoned, and both the number of solutions it offers and its overall market size have expanded handsomely. Even during 2020, the global industry grew 7.5% to be worth US$12.8bn. Average growth for the decade has been 27.4% annually.

As for emerging additive manufacturing technologies, Forrestal says he sees great promise for volumetric 3D printing to impact his work as a bioengineer. Volumetric methods use a rotating vat of photopolymer resin, cured at many different angles by a light source. The engineering challenges are multi-faceted – including in chemistry, software and mechatronics – but the potential for high-speed jobs is vast.

“That’s a really exciting development in bioprinting, because it means you can print these structures with living cells in them, and you don’t have a problem where you’re printing a whole day, while you’ve got to keep all the cells viable and fed with nutrients,” says Forrestal. “I think you’ll be seeing that 3D printing method in all sorts of different areas over the next 10 years or so.”

Bombardier: On track for efficient production

Bombardier Transportation used additive manufacturing technology from Stratasys to speed up the development process for new trains.

Bombardier Transportation is a global mobility solutions provider. Its lead engineering site for Central and Eastern Europe and Israel is located in Hennigsdorf, Germany. This location is responsible for pre and small-series production of mainline and metro projects, as well as design validation to enable the large-scale manufacture of passenger vehicles at other Bombardier Transportation sites around the world.

Maintaining, servicing and manufacturing these vehicles while upholding Bombardier’s standard of excellence requires fast, effective and cost-efficient processes across many teams. A key factor in achieving these objectives is the versatility to work efficiently across different projects.With specific goals to support digital inventory and produce large certified interior train components, Bombardier Transportation’s Hennigsdorf site invested in industrial-grade 3D printing.

“Our customers choose Bombardier Transportation because we deliver innovative design concepts,” André Bialoscek, Head of the Vehicle Physical Integration department at Bombardier Transportation, explains. “Each of these customers has different yet demanding manufacturing requirements, so it’s vital we deploy the most advanced technologies available to ensure we effectively fulfill their needs. That is why we decided to invest in additive manufacturing technology, and specifically the Stratasys F900 3D printer – it enables fast production of large-size production-grade parts.”

The Vehicle Physical Integration department is part of the Hennigsdorf site’s new vehicle construction. It is of central importance for the design validation to provide a multitude of customised parts. Bialoscek says the integration of additive manufacturing has been transformational in achieving these objectives.

“Our goal during the development process for new trains is to speed up the production of project-specific parts that take a while to design,” said Bialoscek. “While speeding up production, we still need to ensure that total functionality, safety, and repeatability are upheld. With our F900 3D printer, we are able to do all those things – it has been a game-changer for our department.”

The department recently produced a complex custom air vent system for a battery-powered prototype train. The large part was 3D printed in ULTEM 9085 resin material, which significantly reduced the component’s weight and optimised overall material use. ULTEM 9085 resin also meets EN45545-2 rail certification guidelines for smoke, toxicity, and fire – a requirement for all train components produced at Bombardier Transportation.

“With regard to the battery train’s air duct, we were able to reduce production time from four months to roughly four weeks,” explained Bialoscek. “That’s a resulting time saving of nearly 77%. That is an incredible outcome for our department and demonstrates our ability to now produce certain parts on-demand to our exacting needs without enduring lengthy production times or compromising on material quality. Also, parts can now be replaced much quicker in the servicing of older trains.”

The F900’s build capacity is big enough for Bombardier Transportation to produce large vehicle components or print several different parts on the same build tray. This gives flexibility to on-demand production and delivers an increased scope for large-size parts like the air duct.

Building a digital inventory

For Bombardier Transportation, the F900 also marks a shift in service, as Bialoscek pointed out. The company is now building a digital inventory, ensuring spare part needs are fulfilled on-demand regardless of the particular train model or its age. By simply storing 3D scans of parts, Bombardier Transportation bypasses the physical storage of parts. When a part is needed, Bombardier Transportation uses the F900 to build it from the digital CAD file. Indeed, a significant benefit of the F900 is the way it enables the team to quickly recreate one of its “digital” parts as a certified train-ready part, leading to fast and direct service for its customers.

“We are now also exploring Stratasys’ PolyJet 3D printing technology for our design validation process, and the results we have witnessed so far have been convincing,” Bialoscek commented. “Indeed, in engineering, the use of 3D printing to produce prototypes has seen us reduce our design process time by a massive 30%-40%, while also increasing the quality of our overall designs.”

Additive manufacturing and the ‘zero-mile’ supply chain

The production of parts using additive manufacturing (AM) offers the possibility of a ‘zero-mile’ supply chain, with significant potential benefits for manufacturing operations.

Manufacturers must often respond fast regarding the repair and turnaround of faulty equipment, minimising production disruption and downtime. Using 3D printing, parts can be produced rapidly in common materials such as steel, titanium, aluminium, or more exotic materials. Moreover, new materials designed specifically for AM offer improved performance. Given the large inventories found within typical manufacturing operations, a major question is: which parts are technically and commercially viable for AM?

A recent audit for a US operation included a total inventory of 4,500 individual parts. Of these, some 450 were identified as technically feasible for printing, and 200 offered significant commercial benefits to the company compared with historic sourcing.

Given the speed of production possible using AM in prototyping and serial production, manufacturers may consider investing in their own in-house 3D printing operation. The advantages include a ‘zero-mile’ parts supply chain, avoidance of high inventory levels, better process control, and risk mitigation against costly downtime. The alternative option is to source from a supplier offering printing services, with their specific lead times and supply chain risks. However, given the focus on productivity among mainstream manufacturing operations , it may be hard to justify the investment of time, technology and resources associated with an in-house AM facility.

A more viable, proven option offers the ‘best of both worlds’, with quality parts are manufactured rapidly on-demand, with a zero-mile supply chain. This results in low operational risk, supporting onsite manufacturing or maintenance operations, but without the need for high capital investment or increased fixed manufacturing costs.

In this scenario, an end-to-end provider of AM services, working under a parts supply contract, establishes a production facility, requiring minimal physical space, on or near the customer’s premises. A dedicated, secure digital parts library is established following a full audit of the client’s inventory. Relevant printing technology is established onsite and print parameters developed for the materials concerned.

The supplier manages the AM production and internal parts order system on the customer’s behalf, delivering virtual on-demand parts production with a zero-mile supply chain. Operational risk is mitigated against the lack of availability of components, and inventories can be managed at lower cost. 3D Metalforge has developed this model at the Port of Singapore, undertaking a full audit of AM-suitable parts, digitalising them into a dedicated parts library ready for production, and manufacturing them on demand for the Port using a Hybrid Wire Arc printer.

Amiga Engineering lands order for world’s first 3DP fixed geometry scramjet engine

Queensland aerospace company Hypersonix Launch Systems has placed an order with Victorian manufacturer Amiga Engineering for the additive engineering build of the SPARTAN scramjet.

SPARTAN is Hypersonix’ fifth-generation scramjet. It is a fixed-geometry self-igniting hydrogen-powered scramjet capable of accelerating from Mach 5 to Mach 12. SPARTAN’s fixed geometry means it has no moving parts, so the design lends itself to 3D printing (3DP). This reduces both the cost and time to produce the scramjet, while potentially adding to reliability and performance. Additive manufacturing allows the creation of parts that h

ave a complex design, and is perfect for light-weighting, which is essential for the space industry.

SPARTAN uses green hydrogen for fuel, so creates no CO2 emissions. The hydrogen fuel also allows Hypersonix to utilise regenerative cooling on the combustor, in turn allowing the use of readily available high-temperature alloys in place of more expensive and complex high-temperature composites.

David Waterhouse, Managing Director and co-founder of Hypersonix said: “The use of additive engineering to manufacture a scramjet engine will fundamentally disrupt the cost structure of scramjets and an important step in providing more affordable access to hypersonic flight. We are very proud of Australia’s world leading heritage in hypersonics and the ability of Australian companies to work together to demonstrate of sovereign capability in this new Space technology.”

Additive manufacturing is one of the key elements mentioned in the Federal Government’s Modern Manufacturing Strategy, which among others includes priorities such as space, defence and clean energy. The SPARTAN scramjet is being manufactured under an Accelerating Commercialisation grant that the Federal Government awarded Hypersonix in August 2020. Under this grant, Hypersonix is building a flight ready scramjet engine and fuel system.

Hypersonix has been able to leverage the growing global hydrogen economy to repurpose off-the-shelf high-pressure composite hydrogen tanks. Hypersonix completed shock tunnel testing of SPARTAN in March 2021 and has completed the final design and thermal modelling of the scramjet. The project is on budget and in schedule and due for completion in March 2022.

“In a demanding industry such as aerospace, additive manufacturing offers the cutting edge in component manufacture capable of creating very complex parts in some of the most exotic materials,” said Michael Bourchier, Managing Director and founder of Amiga Engineering. “With thousands of hours of research and development in every part, the aerospace industry settles for nothing but the best. We are extremely excited to work with Hypersonix Launch systems on the world’s first 3D printed fixed geometry scramjet engine.”

Australian Army trial shows armoured vehicle parts can be printed, certified in the field

The Australian Army has proven it is possible to 3D print and replace armoured vehicle parts in the field, using technology developed by Australian company SPEE3D.

Various parts for the M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier were replaced with metal parts manufactured on site during Exercise Koolendong, an annual bilateral military exercise between the Australian Army and the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin. Parts were identified, 3D printed, certified and then subsequently installed on vehicles

The Australian Army is rapidly developing its metal manufacturing capability with SPEE3D’s award-winning metal 3D printing technology. The company’s WarpSPEE3D Tactical Printer uses patented cold-spray technology that enables significantly faster and more cost-effective metal part production than any other process. It can print large metal parts up to 40kg at a record rate of 100g per minute.

SPEE3D has been working closely with the Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy to bring this capability to the Australian Defence Force with world-first field trials designed to test the feasibility of deploying metal 3D printing as a capability, both in barracks and in the field. A number of field trials in 2020 resulted in more than 50 case studies of printable parts and demonstrated that SPEE3D’s WarpSPEE3D printer was robust enough to operate in remote Australian bushland. The program was extended in 2021 to verify initial results.

In 2021 SPEE3D has been helping train the Australian Army’s first military Additive Manufacturing Cell (AMC) technicians who specialise in the production of metal 3D printed parts, from design, printing, machining, heat-treatment, through to certification. In the remote bushland of Bradshaw Training Area in the Northern Territory, the AMC and SPEE3D recently tested the WarpSPEE3D Tactical Printer as part of its toughest trial yet. The printer was transported in a round trip over 1,200km, over rough terrain, to operate in hot and dusty conditions for three weeks

During the trial the AMC produced more than a dozen different replacement parts for the M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier, a vehicle that has been used by the Australian Army for more than 40 years. The trial aimed to prove metal 3D printing can produce high-quality, military-grade parts that can be validated and certified for use in the field. One of the parts produced was an M113 wheel bearing cover, a part which is often damaged by trees when driven through bushland. The two-kilogram wheel bearing cover was printed in just 29 minutes at a print cost of US$100. The team were able to 3D print, heat treat, machine, test and validate the parts in the field as well as redesign and fortify some parts, reducing the risk of future damage.

SPEE3D’s CEO Byron Kennedy commented: “This is a great example of how expeditionary metal 3D printing can improve Defence readiness. Field trials conducted in 2020 proved SPEE3D technology was deployable. This year’s trial extension was bigger, longer, and more remote, making it the worlds’ toughest and longest metal 3D printing trial so far.”

The trial’s success demonstrates that additive manufacturing can play an important part in the future of Defence readiness. The AMC will explore more components that can be repaired using metal 3D printing as an alternate solution, having parts at the ready in the field.

Postive signs for +addeva

Victorian start-up +addeva is developing an online, end-to-end platform that allows customers to have design input and purchase signage on the same platform. +addeva then supplies the tailored signage, printed locally, inclusive of user-friendly mounting options.

The idea behind +addeva came about several years ago. Whilst running prototyping and manufacturing facilities, Leon Gairns, now director at +addeva, was regularly approached to quote and supply custom signage, vehicle badges and to remedy parts ordered offshore. Often, these projects were well suited to local additive manufacturing but lacked the appropriate CAD files and design input.

In the early stages, the team at +addeva approached several software developers that could offer part of the solution but ultimately did not proceed, instead deciding to provide an end-to-end solution themselves. The Build It Better (BIB) voucher programme, provided through AMTIL’s Additive Manufacturing Hub, offered a pathway to design, optimise and validate the part geometry intellectual property (IP) in parallel with developing the online platform. The intent was to maximise the adoption of localised additive manufacturing.

The challenge

  • To allow the geometry and process validation of a customisable signage system with design freedom.
  • To remove the burden of CAD expertise, production lead times and often minimum order charges.
  • The inclusion of an alignment and mounting system as integral to the final product.

The adoption of additive manufacturing allowed +addeva to quickly scale from a single letter, a combination of letters or even 2,000 letters without the commitment of tooling or having to machine from solid workpieces. The signage is printed in a robust polymer, with further post-finishing offered as optional.

The solution

In undertaking the project, the Additive Manufacturing Hub engaged the assistance of registered service providers (RSPs) X-FORM Pty Ltd and GoProto (ANZ) Pty Ltd. +addeva’s familiarity with Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) as an additive production solution, along with robust material properties, presented MJF as the ideal candidate process against other legacy production processes.

The project followed the following stages:

  1. Additive part geometry and appearance validation trials.
  2. System volume and online customer additive production trials.
  3. Printed and post finished marketing samples.

Rapid design iteration and flexibility in geometry allowed +addeva to arrive at validated parameters, ensuring mass customisation and repeatability. The trials allowed the team to optimise the geometry, packing density, mounting system design, and post-finishing options to ensure consistent production throughput. The final geometry saw a 40% reduction of the original material requirement and allowed for a 15% increase in packing density.

Once the validation and production parts trials were complete, +addeva had confidence that the outcome was repeatable, so CAD automation and print trials were then undertaken. These then increased to production volumes. Marketing reference samples followed, paired with volume trials for select customers.

The MJF process enabled +addeva to trial and re-trial in quick succession and to ultimately supply quality end-use production parts, quickly and sourced locally. Additive manufacturing provided the flexibility to quickly scale without the upfront expense of CAD, tooling or shipping. It eliminated the significant lead-times experienced with legacy production such as subtractive and moulding processes.

How the Additive Manufacturing Hub helped

It was predicted that the project would make full use of the $20,000 BIB voucher co-contribution. The estimated breakdown amounts for this project were:

  • $20,000 to X-FORM ($10,000 to be contributed by BIB voucher).
  • $20,000 to GoProto ($10,000 to be contributed by BIB voucher).

Ultimately, a total of $30,250 (ex GST) was spent with the two RSPs. Of this amount, $15,125 was contributed by the BIB voucher and the remaining $15,125 was paid by +addeva.

The breakdown per RSP was as follows:

  • X-FORM: $19,750 (ex GST).
  • GoProto: $10,500 (ex GST).

The amount spent with GoProto was lower than planned, primarily because +addeva was able to reduce the density of the final parts, allowing a greater number of parts to be packed into each combined prototype build. Additionally, the versatility of MJF in combining builds effectively reduced the quantity of printing required before +addeva was satisfied it had a commercial-ready production option. (Please note that software element was outside of the of the BIB voucher scope).

+addeva’s online platform is focused on signage, but it allows for the addition of other customer-defined products with set customisable geometry to be added in the future. +addeva’s adoption of additive manufacturing allows for a relatively risk-free ramp-up stage to supplying thousands of parts per week, and allows for manageable peaks and troughs that invariably come with early production. The IP developed in this project allows for easy transition to existing user groups but with added flexibility in design and supply. As volume increases, additional sales and production resources will see increased employment at +addeva.


The outcome

The project outcome has allowed +addeva to develop:

  • A lean, fast, end-to-end local supply chain.
  • An online, self-serve customer-customisable signage.
  • The ability to scale from one part to thousands.
  • Several, flexible mounting systems.

Over the project, part geometry could easily be modified, printed, and trialled in real-world conditions. +addeva was able to optimise the parts to further increase production capacity.

To find out more about +addeva, please contact Leon Gairns on 0477 352 549 or email:


TCL Hofmann – Tackling supply chain uncertainty with 3D printing innovations

TCL Hofmann has been appointed as a Stratasys Platinum Partner in Australia and New Zealand as it seeks to help Australian enterprises continue their digital manufacturing transformation journeys.

TCL Hofmann joined the Stratasys channel network since 2019 and has supplied leading-edge 3D printing technologies to manufacturing companies and organisations to help them upscale their businesses and optimise results. With strong teams in Melbourne and Sydney, and sister company TCL Hunt in New Zealand’s major cities, TCL Hofmann’s success has developed from the broad supply of quality products to a range of industries through to the highest levels of service and advisory, pre- and post-sale support, and servicing.

COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the manufacturing industry, testing the resilience and flexibility of manufacturers across the globe as they deal with high levels of uncertainty in production scheduling, raw material sourcing and workforce dependency. TCL Hofmann has demonstrated its ability in delivering a strong customer service experience, and its appointment as a Stratasys Platinum Partner comes at a time when more and more Australian enterprises are embracing 3D printing. Organisations such as Cobalt Design, the Walkinshaw Andretti United (WAU) motor-racing team and Bendigo Tech School have successfully adopted Stratasys technologies.

Award-winning product development group Cobalt increased its industrial design and prototyping agility by bringing two Stratasys F-series 3D printers in-house, for look-and-feel conceptualisation, mock-up development, form-fit-function tests and customer presentation purposes. While working with clients to overcome technical requirements, engineers at Cobalt leveraged the F170 and F270 3D printers to visualise geometries of clients’ requests using real thermoplastics such as ABS, TPU, and carbon-fibre infused plastics. Coupled with a Technology Adoption and Innovation Program sponsored by the Victorian Government and customer support and post-sale application consultation from TCL Hofmann, Cobalt delivers high-quality prototypes and impeccable designs to its clients.

While engineering companies gain prototyping and design capabilities with 3D printers, manufacturers find high-performance 3D printing materials helpful in replacing tools that have malfunctioned or are difficult to obtain. An example such as the supercars champion WAU demonstrates that FDM 3D printers can produce high-strength fixtures and end-use vehicle parts that are tailor-made to endure the extreme demands of motor-racing.

“3D printing technology is essential in the way we build and manufacture development parts for our supercars, so our entire team is excited to have the right tools at hand to be able to chase the ultimate glory,” said WAU Team Principal Bruce Stewart.

Working with a partner that can offer industry knowledge, innovative solution and a local footprint in the manufacturing world has brought extensive benefits to both Cobalt and WAU. However, as well as catering to these organisations’ imminent needs, 3D printing also demonstrates significant potential in preparation for future challenges and new roles.

Innovation hubs such as Bendigo Tech School are inspiring the next generation of engineering and advanced manufacturing workers with cutting-edge 3D printing technology. The Stratasys J55 Prime is a full-colour, high-fidelity professional 3D printer, with tactile, functional and sensory capabilities that allows Bendigo Tech School to enhance its innovative prototyping and entrepreneurship programs with expert application knowledge from TCL Hofmann.

Bendigo Tech School uses advanced STEM knowledge and skills to empower Victorian school students to develop the skills and capabilities they need for jobs of the future. The J55 is a resourceful tool that inspires students, teachers and staff to create original designs and acquire problem-solving skills through 3D printing. Bendigo Tech School is thrilled to partner with TCL Hofmann to bring its full range of 3D printing technology closer to local educators and student initiatives, thereby nurturing the next generation to follow careers in STEM-related industries.

UNSW MMFI delivers AM solutions with help from Konica Minolta

Konica Minolta Australia is assisting the Materials & Manufacturing Futures Institute (MMFI) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) to address industry needs through the supply and support of 3D printing technology for rapid prototyping and manufacture of end-use products.

The MMFI is an interdisciplinary research hub delivering tangible solutions to emerging global problems by studying, building, and transforming the future of materials innovation and advanced manufacturing. Through the MMFI, Australian manufacturers have access to state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing research and problem-solving skills coupled with the technology to address the barriers and opportunities in material sciences and advanced manufacturing, with diverse applications in printed electronics, transport, energy, information technology, and health.

Professor Sean Li, the Institute’s director, said: “MMFI has the research expertise and infrastructure to support local industry. It also has access to other skills within UNSW such as science, chemistry, electrical engineering, and medical science, providing an even broader skillset that can be tapped. Not only can MMFI come up with a theory, we can use the in-house resources to test it, make changes, and in a short timeframe, produce a practical, real-world solution.”

Matthew Hunter, Innovation Product Marketing Manager at Konica Minolta, said: “There is a renewed focus on onshore manufacturing and a massive opportunity for manufacturers in sectors such as aerospace, defence, automotive, and food and beverage. Therefore, it’s critical to have access to resources and skills such as those available through the MMFI to assist with this without requiring massive investment. MMFI has a unique capability to help local industry produce specialised parts that they may previously have had to source offshore.”

The MMFI houses a 3D Systems ProJet HDMax 3500 and a Markforged ProX DMP 300, provided and supported by Konica Minolta. These were both recently used to ensure smooth transfer of graphite powder along the length of a helical screw in a manufacturing line. From prototyping to the end-use part, the finished tool was delivered successfully and is now being used to manufacture quality composite materials. From the prompt to the prototype to the product, this whole process was completed within two weeks using the expertise and facilities at the MMFI.

Professor Sean Li said, “MMFI is keen to continue working with diverse industries to provide simple and elegant solutions that meet specific, complex requirements. MMFI has the capability to assist with any step of the process, whether it’s just a concept or ready for the production line. MMFI is committed to helping the industry with the creation of real and useful products, with a balance between commercial viability, performance, usability and sustainability.”