Australian F-35A flying out of Luke Air Force Base, USA (credit Lockheed Martin)
In a mission to bolster the nation’s air force fleet, the Australian Government has committed to bring home 72 stealthy, next-gen F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF). It’s Australia’s largest military acquisition and will be part of a more than 3000-strong global fleet of JSFs – and every one of these strike fighters will have Australian made components inside.
Increasing production rates to deliver these aerospace parts is critical. That’s why the Australian Government’s New Air Combat Capability program tasked us with developing a technology to drive greater efficiency for the local manufacturers who make and supply them.
The result? A metal machining (cutting) technology that is five times faster and which dramatically reduces machining costs by as much as 80 per cent.
Crucial titanium alloy parts make up about 15 per cent of an aircraft, and are ideal for their lightweight, yet super strong qualities. But from a machining point of view, titanium alloys are notoriously difficult and complicated to work with. The conventional methods out there are slow and tools tend to break prematurely.
Our technology, called thermally assisted machining (TAM) works by pointing a laser beam on the workpiece ahead of the cutting tool, heating up the metal so that it’s more pliable. This speeds up the process while preventing damage and wear to machining tools.
The new set up, showing the laser beam head on the right.
With metal aerospace components estimated to be worth a sizey $50 billion worldwide (and growing) this technology could see Australian manufacturers further tap into the global market for military and commercial aircraft.
TAM’s applications go beyond the titanium machining too, and could benefit other nickel and iron base super alloys which are difficult to machine.
We’re now partnering with local manufacturer H&H Tools to develop a prototype for a gantry type milling machine to demonstrate how the technology works. We expect this to be ready in 2016.
Find out more about our technologies for high performance metals.