3D printing carbon fibre at industrial scale

Swinburne University researchers have developed a way to bring 3D printing with carbon fibre composites to an industrial scale.

Strong, lightweight carbon fibre composites can be used to make everything from aeroplanes and high-end race cars to sports equipment, and they are in high demand.

“The current methods for making these materials can’t meet the demand,” explains Professor Bronwyn Fox, director of Swinburne’s Manufacturing Futures Research Institute. “We are working on a digitally enabled system for 3D printing them on demand with our partners.”

Currently, the Institute is working closely with the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation, the Universities of Stuttgart and Bayreuth, and the industry-driven research consortium ARENA2036—all located in Germany.

In addition, Austrian company Fill will provide a key piece of 3D printing technology, which will be able to produce commercial parts cheaply and with minimal waste.

Bronwyn says international cooperation is essential to the project.

“It enables us to build multidisciplinary teams to solve big challenges,” she explains. “Most importantly, it means we can operate strategically without reinventing something that has already been developed elsewhere.”

But manufacturing carbon fibre composites is just a small part of the bigger picture.

As connectivity and digitisation increase, manufacturing is being transformed. Experts say the fourth industrial revolution—or Industry 4.0—has begun, driven by smart and autonomous systems that are fuelled by big data and machine learning.

Bronwyn’s Institute is Australia’s first research hub to focus on Industry 4.0.

Using the latest technologies, she and her team work to create “new, smart, flexible manufacturing processes for everything from soft drinks to aerospace components”.

“We get to work on solving real-world problems and making a difference to industry,” Bronwyn says.

Banner image: Brownyn Fox is making carbon fibre composites. Credit: Swinburne