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Printing 3D solutions to make us stronger in the sky

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Printing 3D solutions to make us stronger in the sky


Any machine flying at thousands of miles an hour must be incredibly light, undoubtedly strong and held together by joints that won’t fail under immense pressure.

It’s the integrity of those joints – the points connecting one material to another – that aerospace engineer Tiana Bagnato set out to transform in her PhD at RMIT University.

She explains, “Say that I’ve given you a piece of fabric like cotton and a piece of metal. How would you join those two together?” “You might glue them together or use metal bolts and rivets, but these approaches have their own flaws.”

Adhesives have a lengthy, complex manufacturing process and can fail suddenly if the joint is compromised. On the other hand, bolts and rivets damage the material when inserted while adding substantial weight to the overall structure.

Tiana’s solution? Use ground-breaking technology to create 3D-printed titanium micro-pins that reinforce the connection between metal and composite materials in aircraft structures.

“We use a 3D metal printer that combines a laser and metal powder to create the parts,” says Tiana.

“That means we can print our entire joint, along with the pins, in one go.”

In researching the new parts, Tiana has validated a computer simulation model that allows the joints to be tested under different conditions.

Results are promising – these tiny titanium pins have the potential to create safer, lighter and more versatile structures in the sky and beyond.

Fundamental changes like this put the ADF ahead of the tech game and push engineering towards progress.

“This work could extend into so many fields outside of aerospace, including automotive, sustainability, civil, anything that uses structures where composites and metals are joined together,” says Tiana.

“It’s awesome to work on a project that will be useful and tangible to the public.”

The DSI higher degree student grant made that project possible, giving Tiana’s research the focus it needs to succeed.

“The additional funding really helps me focus on my PhD project and means I don’t have to work large hours outside of my studies,” says Tiana.

While the graduate student didn’t expect to find herself working in the defence industry, the support and innovation she’s found here is a welcome addition she hopes to bring into the future.

“It’s a community of people who are very intelligent and experienced in their fields, so you get to learn a lot,” Tiana says.

She concludes, “If you want to work with really high-level technology on something that has extraordinary scope and possibility, then defence is where you want to be.”

Read Tiana’s first publication “Superior interfacial toughening of hybrid metal-composite structural joints using 3D printed pins” here

To learn more about projects like Tiana’s and how DSI can help advance your research, get in touch with




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