Carbon fibre innovation for Australian manufacturing
Defence contractor Thales Australia has entered into a collaboration with Deakin University and IMCRC to develop a lightweight composite overwrap for gun barrels. Manufacturers’ Monthly speaks to the people behind the project.
After establishing the Commonwealth in 1901, the Australian government faced responsibility for the country’s defence for the first time. To be free of complete dependence of British munitions and armament supplies, the decision was made to build a factory to manufacture small arms in the New South Wales town of Lithgow.
In July 1914 – despite the centre only being in operation for two years – The Lithgow Small Arms Factory had to rise to a mighty challenge. During the first world war, over 1500 men worked at the facility, enduring cold winters and terrible living conditions to make almost 100,000 Short Magazine Lee-Enfield rifles and accessories over the next five years.
Graham Evenden, Thales Australia’s director integrated weapons & sensors, said from manufacturing the .303 and SLR to today’s Austeyr SA2 and the EF88, Lithgow has a unique heritage.
“The factory was designed specifically with steam powered, belt driven machines,” he said. “They were able to manufacture that rifle in less than half the time of the same rifle which was being manufactured back in England.”
Today, the facility designs new Australian weapons for military and civilian markets. Thales Australia recently invested $6.5 million in the first step to transform the factory into a modern manufacturing and integration hub for the design, development and precision manufacture of next generation weapons systems.
At the forefront of this push is an exciting new six-month, $234,000 research and development (R&D) project to deliver a carbon fibre overwrap that will reduce the thickness of the gun barrel, resulting in a lighter product with increased precision.