Factories of the future
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Factories of the future

The next industrial revolution is well underway at a new research precinct that draws together advanced manufacturing technologies with the potential to change our world.A three-dimensional rampart of titanium sand rises, mesmerisingly, like a grey beach sculpture on a rotating plinth. The fine grains of alloy are being placed and fused by a laser beam flashing from a dancing robotic arm.The structure steadily forms inside an enclosed cubicle. It is an engine, destined to power a jet aircraft. But unlike all preceding technology, this is a single piece of metal, its structure built up by successive layers of alloy granules being fused into position by the robotic arm as it responds to its digital instructions.This is 3-D printing, or ‘additive manufacturing’, and this laboratory-like workspace is a prime example of a factory of the future – a factory in which the machine and the operator, not to mention the initial designers and engineers, could be on opposite sides of the planet, linked by the increasingly ubiquitous ‘cloud’.For Professor Ian Smith, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Research Infrastructure) at Monash University, this is a demonstration of the third industrial revolution that is heralding new manufacturing economies for countries with the research capacity to conceive and create new technologies, and the means to bring them to reality.For countries such as Australia, which have lost their traditional manufacturing industries to low-labour-cost economies, this revolution is about jumping ahead, exploiting the most advanced science to redefine what manufacturing means and what it can deliver.Additive manufacturing, Professor Smith notes, provides an ability not only to make this jet engine more efficiently, but also to totally redesign it, because current designs are dictated by current manufacturing techniques and capabilities

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Factories of the future