From sky to hospital

Working together to create advanced manufacturing industries

The maiden flight of the COMAC C919 airliner in May 2017 illustrated China’s ambition in advanced manufacturing.

Many of the airliner’s parts are made using 3D printing, and Australian engineers are working with their Chinese colleagues to develop the technology further.

3D printing in metal enables fast prototyping, lighter and simpler construction, and the creation of complex designs that can’t be made by casting. But it’s a challenging and complex technology to master. Components can take days to print and printing flaws can weaken a part.

Australian engineers led by Professor Xinhua Wu are masters of the technology. In 2015 her team at Monash University in Melbourne announced that they had produced the world’s first printed jet engine by scanning and printing a Safran auxiliary power unit.

The Comac C919 aircraft (Credit: Shutterstock)

China is investing heavily in 3D printing for the C919 airliner, which can carry 168 people and is scheduled to start commercial operations in 2021. There are already 785 orders for the new medium-range aircraft, which will use engines developed by Safran and their US partners.

The Monash University team are contributing to the development of the C919 by printing prototypes of a range of components, including an 80cm-long aluminium door hinge and more than 20 other metal alloy components.

In 2017 the University signed a memorandum of agreement with COMAC in the presence of the Premier of Victoria, the Hon Daniel Andrews MP.

Through this agreement, Monash and COMAC will collaborate on the design of specialised new 3D printed alloy components for aerospace applications, including the design and construction of the C919.

Printing for health

3D printed vertebrae (Credit: Monash University)

Metal 3D printing also offers new scope in medicine. Implants—tailored to each patient’s body—can be created within 24 hours once the design has been finalised, compared to the months and years that traditional manufacturing may need.

The Monash team are collaborating with hospitals in Guangzhou Southern Medical University and Melbourne Alfred Hospital to create personalised implants for cancer patients. Chinese cancer surgeons are often required to remove large cancerous growth and need to replace the cancer with an implant that helps everything stay in place. In the case of spine cancers in the past they use cement to fill up cavities.

3D printed vertebra (Credit: Monash University)

Now the surgeons at Guangzhou Southern Medical University can order a customised latticed implants with precise fixing holes to do the job.

The metal alloys used are already rated to aerospace manufacturing standards, which are even more rigorous than those necessary for international biomedical devices.

“This is just one example of how 3D printing can replace the ‘one-size-fits-all’ attitude of the past,” says Professor Wu.


Cars need steel. BaoSteel and Deakin University are working on next-generation alloys and future metal forming processes that could make cars lighter and more energy efficient.

Improved steel manufacturing, new alloys and cathodes for lithium batteries are some of focuses of BaoSteel’s partnership with four Australian universities through the BaoSteel Joint Research and Development Centre hosted by the University of Queensland.

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Header image: Xinhua Wu led the project to print a jet engine (Credit: Monash University)