The problem

The accuracy, reliability, and longevity of manufactured parts is critical, as faulty equipment can lead to disastrous consequences. There is little margin for machine error within industries like agriculture or defence. Luckily, precision machinery allows for stringent, and highly accurate, manufacturing outcomes. It also allows for manufacturing processes to happen faster and more efficiently. Therefore, Australia is experiencing a sharp increase in demand for precision machinery capabilities.

The solution

The University of South Australia’s (UniSA) new Precision Engineering Centre is at the cutting-edge of defence manufacturing, quite literally. The facility hosts micro and nano-machining equipment that is unique in Australia and brings exceptional strategic value to Australian industries, including defence and space.

The new centre, located at UniSA’s Future Industries Institute, is the culmination of a decade-long collaboration between the SA Node of the Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF-SA), which operates within UniSA, and the Research Engineering (RE) at Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG).

The collaboration continues to grow from strength to strength, with the centre now enabling industry and academic users access to more than $10 million of precision machining equipment.

UniSA Professor, and Director of ANFF-SA, Craig Priest, says the university’s Precision Engineering Centre was established in response to overwhelming demand for precision machining in Australia.

Among recent advancements at the centre is the creation of a nano-machined prototype mirror, believed to be the largest diamond-turned mirror made in Australia.

It was created by a multi-axis ultra-precision machining system, which is just one of the centre’s latest capabilities, and is supported by DSTG.

The Centre is also home to DSTG equipment for measuring a diverse range of nano-smooth surface forms – flat, spherical, aspherical, or freeform optics – from small, coated IR lenses through to large concave spheres.

The advancement will play a central role in the upcoming phases of Australia’s Compact Hybrid Optical/RF User Segment (CHORUS) project, poised to transform the landscape of defence communication technology.

Led by Australia’s leading space research centre, SmartSat Cooperative Research Centre, the CHORUS project aims to create more stable and secured military satellite communications.

Focused on seamlessly integrating optical and radio frequency satellite communications into a unified system, the project has the potential develop and deliver a new class of military satellite communications service for the Australian Defence Force and its allies.

This includes the ability to develop optical communications that provide higher bandwidth, lower observability, and more secure communications for tactical communications between ships, aircraft, and ground vehicles.

Prof Priest says the Precision Engineering Centre, is focused on enhancing our nation’s optical component capabilities.

“The micro and nanofabrication capabilities will be critical in the development of next generation prototypes and new methods for defence manufacturing.”

The investment for the centre includes support from UniSA, the South Australian Government and the Federal Government.

“The sustained government funding, collaboration with DSTG, and UniSA’s strong commitment to industry engagement has allowed us to drive ideas to higher technology readiness levels and demonstrate feasible manufacturing pathways,” Prof Priest says.

Project outcomes

Creation of new Precision Engineering Centre  

Ability to enhance military satellite communications

Industry and academic access to more than $10 million of equipment.

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