Swinburne University of Technology has started testing its newly formulated, 3D printable, polypropylene-based material. Declaring it a world-first development, the university is collaborating with industry partner Tradiebot Industries, with co-investment from the Innovative Manufacturing CRC (IMCRC). The material will be used in the collision repair industry to 3D-print replacement plastic bumper bar tabs and headlight lugs.
According to a statement, the advanced plastic material is compatible with automotive-grade injection-moulded plastic, and will increase the number of parts being repaired and reused during the collision repair process, rather than those parts being sent to landfill or waste due to missing tabs and lugs. When ready for industry use, the solution will offer technicians a path to up-skill through learning to repair these parts and designing new replacement components for parts that would have previously required a brand-new replacement.
The material will be able to be 3D-printed using the WorxAR augmented reality (AR) mobile application under development by Tradiebot. WorxAR is expected to enable collision repair technicians to perform quality control on repairs by overlaying an original CAD diagram on the camera viewfinder display of a smartphone, tablet or smart glasses. The app will have the ability to scan broken plastic parts, generate a 3D model of the part and then enable the user to create, or select from a library, the required missing component. This missing component will then be 3D printed using the new automotive compatible material. The developed replacement parts will be stored in a digital library of pre-designed parts, ready for download and 3D printing.
The new material being tested in the form of a headlight base bracket.
“The new 3D printing material and the mobile app development marks a significant step towards the utilisation of new digital tools, additive manufacturing/3D printing and advanced materials in the collision repair industry,” said Mario Dimovski, Tradiebot CEO. “Tradiebot has been leading the way in 3D printing innovations in the collision repair industry for the past four years and is very excited to bring to market such an innovative solution.”
The polypropylene composite material, formulated in-house and developed by Swinburne materials scientist Dr Mostafa Nikzad and his team, will allow on-demand replacement tabs to be printed and fuse-welded by repair technicians on plastic car parts, enabling these broken parts to be reused, according to the statement. By keeping the plastic composites based on polypropylene, direct welding can be performed on bumpers or headlight bases, as most of these parts are made from the same material.
Dr Nikzad and his team were tasked with creating a material with the right bonding properties, strength and toughness required to meet automotive quality standards, while also possessing the necessary characteristics to be 3D printed. Compatibility with automotive grade injection moulded plastics was also required to be guaranteed.
“This is a ground-breaking development and I am is very proud of the work my team has achieved,” said Dr Nikzad. “It has been great working alongside an innovative project partner like Tradiebot. The initial idea to develop the material and how best to provide access to it for the industry is really exciting. I like the idea of using a mobile scanning app and creating your own replacement parts for printing. We are also now planning a second phase of this project that involves embedding self-healing capabilities into the material in a world-first.”
The statement added that IMCRC functions as a catalyst in the research collaboration, co-investing in 3D printing and material innovation that creates opportunities not just for Tradiebot and the collision repair industry, but for Australia’s broader manufacturing sector.
“I see the progress of the research collaboration as an indication of the things to come,” said David Chuter, CEO and Managing Director at IMCRC. “From day one, Tradiebot and Swinburne University have been working hand-in-hand, embracing opportunities as well as challenges to drive progress and get the job done. Seeing them test new 3D printing materials that did not exist two years ago and explore digital technology to enhance the user experience is very rewarding.”
Tradiebot said it aims to have the material and mobile application available to the market in early 2020, as the project moves into its final stage of commercialisation.