Now a regular feature of the Austech exhibition, the Additive Pavilion was again showcasing the latest developments in additive manufacturing, and this year 3D printing in metals was a dominant theme.

Printing in metal is continuing to move out of labs and into Australian factories, though for the moment it remains in high-value niches. According to Ben Batagol, Business Development Manager at Amaero, adopters of metals additive manufacturing are going to increasingly diverge into two distinct camps: those focussed on getting volume up and cost down; and those chasing high-quality applications. For Batagol’s company, the focus has always been on the second, particularly in aerospace.

“We took a conscious decision that high-value aerospace work is really our niche,” said Batagol. “And four years ago that’s what we said we wanted to target.”

Amaero has earned a reputation as a success story in these early days of Australian companies using additive manufacturing. It opened a French facility last November, and has a growing collection of US companies in its order book.

“That’s a growing presence for us,” Batagol added. “Ironically, the Australian market is one of the smallest markets we deal with in the world. We’re based in Australia but addressing a global market.”

Metals-based 3D printing is too slow and too expensive for many businesses and classrooms, according to Tim Barker, Marketing and Sales Assistant at Perth’s Aurora Labs.

“Our target markets are mainly universities,” said Barker. “There’s a few professors that have come and spoken to us.”

The company is currently making a small-scale S-Titanium machine, which started shipping in December, and which it sells for around US$50,000. It is scheduled to release medium- and large-format machines this year and next, respectively, and Barker claims the latter will have a build rate of one tonne per 24 hours.

RMIT University’s work with additive manufacturing includes some impressive medical applications, as well as high-level aerospace work. RMIT Technical Officer Aaron Pateras said an issue among enterprises curious about 3D printing had been getting them to think creatively about applications. It should not be approached as simply a replacement for older production methods – a trap into which people often fall.

“Once we actually have a case it’s not too hard to say this technology could benefit you by doing this,” Pateras explained. “The hard part is getting people to realise that you can benefit in doing it [different to] the way they’ve been doing it for 100 years and allow things they couldn’t possibly do.”