You know the drill: new tech saves time and money

CSIRO’s Dr Yulia Uvarova in the middle of proof-of-concept study for Lab-at-Rig®

Dr Yulia Uvarova in the middle of our proof-of-concept study for Lab-at-Rig®

Like going to the dentist, mineral exploration and discovery can involve a lot of drilling and a fair amount of (financial) pain. And much like your friendly neighbourhood dentist, the longer it takes to understand what’s happening, the more it costs.

When it comes to getting information about the minerals and chemistry of a single drill hole, the process can take up to three months. This is because a typical setup involves: setting up the drill site, drilling, extracting rock cores, sampling and logging those cores and sending the samples to a laboratory (which is often a considerable distance from the exploration site) for analysis. Then there is the process of entering and analysing the data, popping the findings into a database and getting it back to the company, so they can make a decision – it’s more complex than a root canal and much more expensive.

To speed up the process of understanding the mineralogy and geochemistry of drill hole cuttings we developed a portable lab, one that can be fitted to the exploration drill rig and analyse in real-time.

Instead of taking three months this process now takes about one hour – that’s more than 2000 times quicker than the current arrangement.

We’ve called this technology Lab-at-Rig®. Developed in partnership with Imdex and Olympus Scientific Solutions Americas, this onsite lab can be fitted to a diamond drill rig and a solid recovery unit to drastically speed-up the process of analysing an exploration site.

Lab-at-Rig® technology arose out of an idea to analyse on-site the solid matter in fluids (shown here) that come to the surface during drilling.

Lab-at-Rig® technology arose out of an idea to analyse the solid matter in fluids (shown here) that come to the surface during drilling.

The lab includes a sample preparation unit that collects solids from drill cuttings and dries them; X-ray fluorescence and X-ray diffraction sensors to provide chemistry and mineralogy of the sample respectively; and the capability to upload that data to the cloud for analysis, in less time than it takes to watch a movie.

The project came about back in 2011, when a group of researchers were watching a diamond drilling operation near Adelaide and asked a simple question: ‘what if we could analyse the cuttings separated from that fluid in real time?’ We now know the answer: we can save a lot of time and money.

And now, after two years of research and development we’ve just announced that we will be commercialising Lab-at-Rig® and bringing this technology to the world, with the help of our commercialisation partner REFLEX.

With the prototype becoming a reality, perhaps we should turn our attention to making dentist visits quicker.

The Lab-at-Rig prototype was developed under the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC).

CSIRO, Imdex, Olympus, University of Adelaide and Curtin University are now working on the $11m collaborative DET CRC Lab-at-Rig Futures Project, which will build the next generation system to cover: new sensor technologies, improved data analysis and processing for decision making, and development of the system for new applications and drilling platforms.

Find out more about our minerals exploration work.

Pedal to the metal: how we’re producing aerospace parts five times faster

Australian F-35A flying out of Luke Air Force Base, USA (credit Lockheed Martin)

Australian F-35A flying out of Luke Air Force Base, USA (credit Lockheed Martin)

By Emily Lehmann 

In a mission to bolster the nation’s air force fleet, the Australian Government has committed to bring home 72 stealthy, next-gen F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF). It’s Australia’s largest military acquisition and will be part of a more than 3000-strong global fleet of JSFs – and every one of these strike fighters will have Australian made components inside.

Increasing production rates to deliver these aerospace parts is critical. That’s why the Australian Government’s New Air Combat Capability program tasked us with developing a technology to drive greater efficiency for the local manufacturers who make and supply them.

The result? A metal machining (cutting) technology that is five times faster and which dramatically reduces machining costs by as much as 80 per cent.

Crucial titanium alloy parts make up about 15 per cent of an aircraft, and are ideal for their lightweight, yet super strong qualities. But from a machining point of view, titanium alloys are notoriously difficult and complicated to work with. The conventional methods out there are slow and tools tend to break prematurely.

Our technology, called thermally assisted machining (TAM) works by pointing a laser beam on the workpiece ahead of the cutting tool, heating up the metal so that it’s more pliable. This speeds up the process while preventing damage and wear to machining tools.

The new set up, showing the laser beam head on the right.

The new set up, showing the laser beam head on the right.

With metal aerospace components estimated to be worth a sizey $50 billion worldwide (and growing) this technology could see Australian manufacturers further tap into the global market for military and commercial aircraft.

TAM’s applications go beyond the titanium machining too, and could benefit other nickel and iron base super alloys which are difficult to machine.

We’re now partnering with local manufacturer H&H Tools to develop a prototype for a gantry type milling machine to demonstrate how the technology works. We expect this to be ready in 2016.

Find out more about our technologies for high performance metals.

Cancer patient receives 3D printed ribs in world-first surgery

The sternum (the central piece) and the rib cages emanating from it, have been designed using precise scans to perfectly fit in the patient's chest after he had sections removed.

3D printed sternum: The ‘chest’ story you’ll hear all week. Image credit: Anatomics

A Spanish cancer patient has received a 3D printed titanium sternum and rib cage designed and manufactured right here in Australia, at our Melbourne-based 3D printing facility in Melbourne.

Suffering from a chest wall sarcoma (a type of cancerous tumour that grows, in this instance, around the rib cage), the 54 year old man needed his sternum and a portion of his rib cage replaced. This part of the chest is notoriously tricky to recreate with prosthetics, due to the complex geometry and design required for each patient. So the patient’s surgical team determined that a fully customisable 3D printed sternum and rib cage was the best option.

Here's how the 3D printed sternum and rib cage fit inside the patient's body.

Here’s how the 3D printed sternum and rib cage fit inside the patient’s body. Image: Anatomics

That’s when they turned to Melbourne-based medical device company Anatomics, who designed and manufactured the implant utilising our 3D printing facility, Lab 22.

The news was announced by Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane today. And the news is good, 12 days after the surgery the patient was discharged and has recovered well.

This isn’t the first time surgeons have turned the human body into a titanium masterpiece. Thoracic surgeons typically use flat and plate implants for the chest. However, these can come loose over time and increase the risk of complications. The patient’s surgical team at the Salamanca University Hospital thought a fully customised 3D printed implant could replicate the intricate structures of the sternum and ribs, providing a safer option for the patient.

Using high resolution CT data, the Anatomics team was able to create a 3D reconstruction of the chest wall and tumour, allowing the surgeons to plan and accurately define resection margins. We were then called on to print the sternum and rib cage at Lab 22.

The sternum (the central piece) and the rib cages emanating from it, have been designed using precise scans to perfectly fit in the patient's chest after he had sections removed.

The sternum (the central piece) and the rib cages emanating from it, have been designed using precise scans to perfectly fit in the patient’s chest after he had sections removed. Image credit: Anatomics

As you could imagine, the 3D printer at Officeworks wasn’t quite up to this challenge. Instead, we relied on our $1.3 million Arcam printer to build up the implant layer-by-layer with its electron beam, resulting in a brand new implant which was promptly couriered to Spain.

This video explains how it all works.

The advantage of 3D printing is its rapid prototyping.  When you’re waiting for life-saving surgery this is the definitely the order of the day.

We are no strangers to biomedical applications of 3D printing: in the past we have used our know-how to create devices like the 3D printed heel-bone, or the 3D printed mouth-guard for sleep apnoea suffers.

When it comes to using 3D printing for biomedical applications, it seems that we are just scratching the surface of what’s possible. So, we’re keen to partner with biomedical manufacturers to see how we can help solve more unique medical challenges.

Media contact: Crystal Ladiges, Phone: +61 3 9545 2982, Mobile: +61 477 336 854 or Email:

How we helped reinvent the wheel

The Shelby GT530R features the world’s first mass-produced carbon fiber wheels. Ford is the first major automaker to offer carbon fiber wheels as standard equipment.

The Shelby GT530R features the world’s first mass-produced carbon fibre wheels. Ford is the first major automaker to offer carbon fibre wheels as standard equipment.

By Crystal Ladiges

The Shelby Mustang has been held up as high performance marvel by sports car-enthusiasts for generations. Appearing as fabled-creature Eleanor, she’s best known for stealing the show (and Nicolas Cage’s heart) in the action flick Gone in 60 Seconds.

Now, details of the all-new 2016 Ford Shelby GT350R have been released. And it has been touted as the most track-ready road-going production Mustang ever.

That the new Shelby will be rocket ship-fast should come as no surprise, but what is news to many is that it’s an Aussie innovation that will make this pony gallop!

Ford has announced the GT350R will roll out the world’s first mass-produced carbon fibre wheels.  Not only do these wheels look fast, carbon fibre wheels are nearly half the weight of an equivalent made out of aluminium (eight kilograms versus 15 kilograms) and as a result, a car’s handling, acceleration and chassis performance see serious benefits.

Up until now, these high-performance wheels have only been available as an after-market product or in the rarefied world of supercars. This is the first time they will be included part of a car’s standard kit.

And the best part is, this high-tech innovation has been developed right here, by Geelong-based manufacturer Carbon Revolution.

Carbon Revolution is a leading manufacturer in carbon-fibre wheels, however when approached with this challenge, they knew significant innovation would be needed to meet Ford’s particular requirements.

The wheels would have to be incredibly strong, in order to withstand the likes of kerb strikes, potholes and everyday bad driving, as well as wear and tear from weather, rain and temperature changes.

That’s why they approached our Infrastructure Technologies team to help put the wheels through their paces. Using our accelerated weathering and materials durability equipment, we simulated conditions equivalent to extended exposure to the elements. We were able to show that the high-tech wheels could stand the test of time.

Because many owners will also take their GT350R around the track, the wheels also had to be designed to withstand some serious heat. After all, have you ever seen the glow from the brakes after Winterbottom hits the anchors flying into a hairpin corner?

To address this, Carbon Revolution developed a heat-shielding method that is literally out of this world – similar to that used on the engine turbines of space shuttles. However, they needed to assess how effective this would be for when applied to a road vehicle.

Drawing on our expertise in fire safety, our engineers worked with the company to thermally model the conditions the brakes and the wheels would experience in race conditions. The team then repurposed facilities used for bushfire testing to expose Carbon Revolution’s wheels to a series of high heat load assessments. The tests showed that the wheels were able to withstand the high brake temperatures, without degrading the carbon fibre.

Not only is Ford’s announcement a big plus for car enthusiasts, it’s a huge win for local industry – highlighting Australia’s important role in supplying the global auto market.

This will continue thanks in part to Carbon Revolution’s $24m purpose-built manufacturing facility that will create over 100 new jobs for the Geelong region.  When complete, this facility will have capacity for commercial scale production of 50,000 carbon fibre wheels a year.

Find out more about the services we offer for business.

Super soakers: speedy crystal sponges to mop up industrial waste


The tiny crystal sponges up close. They are much bigger on the inside and the ideal waste filters.

By Emily Lehmann

Environmental management is a valuable business. As well as being critical for protecting our waterways, soil and health, it supports a rapidly growing industry, contributing billions of dollars to Australia’s GDP each year.

That’s why we’re coming up with better, more efficient tools to add value to the industry.

One promising new technology for cleaning up industrial waste and soil takes advantage of tiny sponge-like crystals made of metal organic frameworks (or MOFs). These super soakers make ideal waste filters, efficiently trapping large amounts of contaminants found in industrial wastewater and soil.

The crystals are deceptively small. Believe it or not, just one gram has the internal storage capacity of an entire football oval – that’s 7,000 square metres! Until now, these crystals have been challenging to manufacture and bring to market because of their lengthy and costly production time.

The good news for manufacturers is that we’ve come up with a way to grow the crystals quickly and cheaply for around 30 per cent of the cost. Rather than taking days, our method makes MOF crystals in as little as 15 minutes, making them viable to manufacture for the first time.


CSIRO’s Paolo Falcaro – one of the clever brains behind the new method.

Our method has been used to create a specific type of MOF crystal based on zinc oxides, but we believe it could be applied to different types of MOFs in areas as diverse as energy and pharmaceuticals. These crystal gems could offer industry an innovative solution for turning tonnes of wastewater into safe, clean and usable resources.

We’re now looking to partner with manufacturers to develop these crystal sponges into a saleable product using our new process.

Find out how we’ve been applying these clever MOF crystals to other industries, including potential opportunities for your business. 

Seashells to protect and deliver life-saving vaccines

Our materials scientist, Dr Kang Liang, was inspired by the natural biomineralisation process of seashells.

Our materials scientist, Dr Kang Liang, was inspired by the natural biomineralisation process of seashells.

By Emily Lehmann 

Vaccination is one of the most powerful and effective ways of protecting the population against infectious disease. Yet, getting vaccines to everyone who needs them, particularly in developing countries, continues to be a massive challenge.

But what if we could make vaccines more robust so that they can be more easily and cost-effectively transported?

An exciting breakthrough discovery by our scientists has the potential to make life-saving vaccines more accessible by putting an end to the need for refrigeration. And, as with many problems in science, the solution has come from nature.

Thinking outside the square, and inside the shell

A key challenge to vaccine delivery in developing countries is that they often need to be transported over long distances, via multiple transportation modes and through extreme temperatures to reach everyone who needs them.

Maintaining the ideal ‘cold chain’ temperature so that the vaccines remain intact can involve a series of refrigerated trucks and ice-cooled ‘esky’ carriers and is a costly and somewhat risky exercise.

Taking a cue from nature, we’ve come up with a protective seashell-inspired capsule that could cost-effectively and reliably preserve the key active ingredients in vaccines.

It mimics a process called biomineralisation where sea urchins grow a hard, protective shell to safeguard their fragile tissue inside. Applying this concept, has led to a molecular-scale shell that grows around and protects fragile biomolecules such as proteins and enzymes.

For a few dollars at most per dose, our shell could overcome the need to refrigerate vaccines and reduce the cost of delivery. It could preserve them and extend their shelf-life when exposed to hostile environments, such as extreme temperatures, pressure, pollution and bacteria.

The cost is minimal given vaccines can be valued for up to hundreds of dollars a vial. Our team believes that developing the technology at a commercial scale could see the cost of the technology reduced even further.

The shell is made of an extremely porous material called metal organic frameworks (MOFs) and has a flexible and customisable cage-like structure.

Like a sea urchin has pores, the MOF shell has tiny holes that allow it to trap and then release the biomolecules.

Not only could the shell be used to protect vaccines, it could also pave the way to developing new, more targeted drugs, better consumer products such as more efficient laundry washing powder, and improve chemical, food and water processing.

These are products that could enhance healthcare and the everyday lives of people around the world.

Our next step is to partner with companies to apply the technology in pharmaceuticals, healthcare, manufacturing, and chemical, food and water processing.

Companies interested in developing the shell technology should contact The full paper can be accessed at Nature Communications.

Visit our website for more information about the project. 

Extreme makeover for surgical implants

Implant modelsThis story is part of our spotlight series on #CSIROhealth. From apps to 3D printing, global epidemics to preventative wellbeing, we’re working in many ways, across many industries, to keep you healthy. More on our website

Plastic surgery is a booming business in Australia. In fact, we spend over $1 billion each year on surgical procedures and treatments, with liposuction, breast augmentation and rhinoplasty topping the list.

While many patients simply want to change their appearance or chase the fountain of youth, plastic surgery can make the biggest difference to people who are recovering from trauma, or who are suffering from other debilitating medical conditions.

For those that have been in a road or industrial accident, or who have had a cancerous tumour removed, reconstructive surgery can return function to affected body parts, boost confidence and put patients on the path to full recovery.

That’s why we’ve partnered with Australian medical devices company Anatomics to develop better surgical implants that can be used in these types of procedures. Last year we worked together to 3D print a titanium heel bone implant, saving cancer sufferer Len Chandler’s leg and making headlines around the world.

Now, we’ve helped Anatomics develop a new type of polyethylene (plastic) implant, specifically designed for repairing and augmenting bones in the head, skull and face.

These new implants can repair and augment bones in the head, skull and face.

These new implants can repair and augment bones in the head, skull and face.

This new implant is called PoreStar, named after the star shaped particle used in its manufacturing process, to create a porous structure. PoreStar is the first in a new class of implant material with bone like architecture. Unlike other implants, PoreStar has an open pore structure that resembles real bone.

“To create this implant we took a known material in polyethylene which has a history of being approved for use in the human body,” Dr Mike O’Shea from our biomedical manufacturing team says.

“We then took some inspiration from manufacturing processes that are used in different industries. We drew on our knowledge in structural fibres, moulding and biomedical scaffolds.”

Close-up of PoreStar structure

The star-like particles of PoreStar more closely resemble trabecular bone.

By bringing together all of this expertise, the team was able to develop a product that had higher porosity, giving it improved malleability and flexibility. This means that surgeons can actually shape and mould the implants in the operating theatre.

Anatomics CEO Andrew Batty says the implants are designed from 3D CT scans, meaning they are customised for individual patients, which can improve surgical outcomes.

“It’s rewarding being able to develop a product that has the potential to help so many people around the world.”

“What’s more, we’ve really been able to tap into the local industry. Thanks to this new product, we were able to set up a manufacturing facility for the implants right here in Melbourne.”

Building on this success, the team is now looking toward the opening of the Biomedical Materials Transformation Facility a $46 million initiative that will bring together CSIRO, Monash University and 20 industry partners to focus on taking biomedical products from the bench to prototype, and ultimately to market.

Learn more about our work in biomedical manufacturing on our website.