The Advanced Prototyping Workshop at The University of Queensland is an engineer’s wonderland.
Tucked away on the bottom level of the iconic Advanced Engineering Building by the UQ Lakes, the workshop is home to an Aladdin’s cave of tools, machinery and opportunity.
Gaining a spot on the elite team of six is no easy feat – UQ is in the top 50 in the world, after all, and there’s only one Advanced Prototyping team.
The small group of technical and trade-qualified specialists have come from an array of design and fabrication backgrounds. They’re tool makers, CNC machinists, plastic injection specialists, wood machinists, and mechanical whizzes.
The team spend their days grinding, tweaking, honing and polishing some of the most cutting-edge engineered designs out there.
Professor Michael Smart from the UQ Centre for Hypersonics is researching and developing air-breathing scramjet engines for travel into space, and he’s got a secret weapon up his sleeve. His secret weapon’s name is Gary Manning and Gary is legendary for his seamless work on a 5-axis CNC machine.
“The scramjet engine models we test are very complex – we’re performing aerodynamic experiments in our T4 shock tunnel, which can recreate the exact conditions of hypersonic flight in the upper atmosphere, so of course we require extreme precision on our prototypes,” Professor Smart said.
“The very talented staff in the Advanced Prototyping team, including Gary, are able to manufacture these models for us to the very high accuracy we need.
“When we as the research team are designing our scramjet engine models, we can talk with the workshop staff to work through issues as they arise and collaboratively design models that are easier to manufacture and, therefore, less expensive.”
The Advanced Prototyping team will tell you it’s a challenging, but very rewarding, task helping to create new kinds of rocket engines.
“Professor Smart’s latest scramjet engine design was really fun to help create," said Mr Manning. “To know he was taking it with him to Oxford to work with the best aerospace researchers in the world is pretty exciting - and we’re playing a role in that.”
“I love working in this team, where everyone is focused on absolute precision and working towards bigger goals.”
The Advanced Prototyping team doesn’t just work with researchers, the team also works with students on design and prototyping projects – and since the recent launch of Australia’s biggest university makerspace ‘UQ Innovate’ on campus, the team is only getting busier.
“We’re working on all sorts of projects with students and academic staff – from omni-directional wind turbines for energy generation, to race cars for UQ’s student Formula SAE racing team – there’s always something new and interesting to get stuck into.”
UQ Space rocketing ahead
UQ Space, the University’s student rocketry team, currently holds the number one ranking in Australia for competitive university rocket launches.
The rocketry team works very closely with UQ’s workshop team to produce their winning designs.
Managing Director of UQ Space, mechanical engineering and political science student Myrthe Snoeks said her team had been able to achieve a huge amount in the past year, thanks to the support and facilities available at UQ.
“UQ is definitely not just about books and study – we have the chance to design, build and create to our hearts' content,” said Ms Snoeks.
“The rockets we’ve built, called Athena and Minerva, are 2090 millimetres and 2650 millimetres long, respectively.
“Each carries a four-kilogram payload as close as possible to their target altitudes of 10,000 and 30,000 feet, and reaches maximum speeds of Mach 1 and Mach 2.25.
“With the launch of the new makerspace this year, we have the tools we need to tackle even more exciting and challenging projects, with the aim to go further than any Australian university team has gone before.
“Our next goal is to send a student build rocket to 100-kilometres, passing the Kármán Line, and officially reaching space, and we will compete in the international Spaceport America Cup in the United States in June.”
And Gary and the team are ready to go.
“Seeing students get this excited about design and manufacturing also gives me energy to keep pushing forward with new ideas.”