Associated Research Centres
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Associate Prof Ma Qian
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Dr Tim Sercombe
Dr Ji-Yong Yao
Dr Zhenyun Liu
Dr Damon Kent
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Australian Research Council
3D Systems, Inc.
Aluminium Powder Company
BHP Billiton Ltd
Cooltemp Pty Ltd
Our current research is principally concerned with the design of powder metallurgy systems, particularly for enhanced sintering and rapid prototyping, predominantly of aluminium and titanium.
Aluminium is difficult to sinter and the properties of sintered aluminium alloys are not sufficient for many target applications. Our work therefore focuses on understanding the sintering mechanisms in aluminium in order to control and manipulate them and then applying this understanding and control to the design and development of new alloys and composite systems. This is a multi-faceted project which has been running since 1993 and has both a strategic research direction, largely funded by the ARC and a more applied direction, largely funded by industry, with which we work very closely. A team of six people are currently working on this project. Initially funded by Comalco Aluminium, ACL Bearing Company and the Australian Research Council, it has been supported solely by Ampal Inc from 1999. From July 2005, this project became part of the CAST CRC.
Our second major research project is concerned with the rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing of aluminium. The motor vehicles industry is the largest user of rapid prototyping services, representing more than a quarter of the total world wide RP use. Concomitantly, the transport industry is both the largest user of aluminium and the fastest growing market for aluminium. A latent demand therefore exists for an aluminium RP/RM system. However, no direct aluminium RP/RM system is currently available as a commercial product. Indirect rapid prototyping of aluminium components is possible, but typically requires the production of a lost wax model and subsequent investment casting. While this uses rapid prototyping techniques, it is not a true rapid prototyping technology because it still requires the fabrication of a mould. This work began in 1996 as a part of a PhD project and it has now evolved into a major program. Initially funded by 3D Systems and the Aluminium Powder Company, it is now funded by 3D Systems and the Australian Research Council.
A third project, begun in 2005, is concerned with the metal injection moulding (MIM) of aluminium. This is a manufacturing technology which produces small complex shapes using a two-step process. The first involves the production of a green part by the injection of a metal powder/resin mixture into a closed die. This process is essentially similar to injection moulding of plastic components and produces part of a similar complexity using conventional plastic injection moulding machinery. The second step involves the burnout of the resin and the sintering of the remanent powder to full density. Aluminium MIM has the potential to combine the light weight advantages of aluminium with the cost benefits of injection moulding for the manufacture of small complicated parts. The project has two components. The first is to develop a solid state sintering system for aluminium and the second is to understand the economics of Al MIM. Thus the science and the economics are addressed concomitantly so that when the product is available, the market will be defined. The econometrics is addressed in collaboration with Drs David Prentice and Xiangkang Yin from the Department of Economics and Finance at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Victoria (http://www.latrobe.edu.au/business/index.htm). The project is funded by Cooltemp, the Aluminium Powder Company and the Australian Research Council.
Also beginning in 2005 was a fourth project on sintering and alloy development in titanium. Because titanium powders have to date been so expensive, there has been little requirement for press-and-sinter alloys. However, the potential advent of inexpensive titanium powders will change this paradigm. Because sintering is the step in the PM process that is most responsible for the development of strength and other properties, alloys need to be designed specifically for sintering. The aim of this project is therefore to design the alloys and thermal schedules that maximise the sintering response of blended elemental titanium alloys. It is anticipated that these materials will occupy a whole new region of multi-dimensional cost/property space and have significant potential for the automotive industry. This project is funded by BHP Billiton and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Design in Light Metals.