Laser robot technology trades hands
Date posted: Thursday 11 Mar 2010
Hardwear Pty Ltd, the company behind laser technology that could save the power industry millions, has been sold to Melbourne-based business, Hardchrome Engineering.
Hardwear has pioneered the use of laser robots to carry out on-site repairs of power station turbine blades – potentially saving the industry millions in costly and time-consuming manual turbine maintenance.
Using high-power laser energy to fuse a metal alloy powder to the surface of turbine blades, the technology was developed in 2003 by researchers at Swinburne University of Technology and the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Welded Structures (now the welded Structures Foundation).
After its initial success, the collaborative research group decided in 2005 that the technology should be ‘spun off’ into a commercial venture. With Swinburne, the Centre for Energy and Greenhouse Technologies Fund (managed by Cleantech Ventures) and the Welded Structures Foundation as shareholders, Hardwear was born.
Hardwear’s most significant projects to date have been the resurfacing of the low pressure blades in two 350MW steam turbines at AGL’s Torrens Island power station in South Australia. AGL was involved in the original research collaboration and, being in an understandably conservative industry sector, its full adoption of the technology is testament to the value of research conducted jointly by universities and industry such as under the CRC program.
Without the use of Hardwear’s laser robots, AGL would have had to either replace the blades completely, or remove them and repair them off-site – a process that would have cost thousands of dollars per blade and weeks in lost production time.
According to Bruce Whan, director of Swinburne Knowledge the university’s commercialisation arm, Hardwear’s growing success in the commercial world signalled it was the right time to hand it over.
“With the research and development phase of Hardwear’s technology complete, we felt it was time to hand the venture over to an established player within the industry.
“We are very pleased that, through Hardchrome, the technology will remain available for use by Australian power stations, such as the one at Torrens Island, and potentially throughout the world.”
According to Hardchrome General Manager, Andrew Dugan, Hardwear fits perfectly with the company’s existing work in laser cladding.
“We saw the technology as a neat fit. We were already doing laser cladding, so this was a natural extension of our business, he said.
“It really is cutting edge, cost saving technology and is something that all power stations should be considering, especially given the current economic climate.”
Dugan said that the next stage of the business is to push it globally. “We are already in talks with a number of international power stations. We not only want Australia’s power industry to benefit, but also the rest of the world.”