Additive manufacturing of MAX Phase parts for applications in extreme environments

Project opportunity

This Earmarked Scholarship project is aligned with a recently awarded Category 1 research grant. It offers you the opportunity to work with leading researchers and contribute to large projects of national significance.

MAX phase compounds (MPCs) are lightweight materials that have both metallic and ceramic characteristics. Their composition can be tuned by selecting from three different groups of elements, one for each component M (carbide former metals), A (Group A elements), and X (Carbon or nitrogen). Hence, MPCs are considered as emerging advanced materials for engineering applications at special and extreme conditions, such as high temperature, high pressure and corrosive and oxidising environments, in aerospace, defence, electrical and other industrial sectors. However, the currently available MPC materials face a few challenges that limit their commercialisation and industrial applications. This includes complexity of manufacturing process, difficulty to produce high purity powder and to select right material for a particular application. Powder-based additive manufacturing (AM, commonly called 3D printing) technology provides a powerful tool to address the above challenges. Firstly, as AM provides high design freedom for shape complexity, and most AM involves melting and solidification, high density parts with shape complexity can be produced. Secondly, AM enables in-situ synthesis of MPCs using carbides/nitrides and metal powders as feedstocks, and the high laser absorption rate of ceramics can generate sufficient high temperatures (up to 3000°C) to facilitate the reactions of the powders to produce the desired MPCs. Because such reactions occur within small melt pools during AM, and the fast cooling prevents some phases forming, purity of the formed MPCs can be controlled in-situ. Thirdly, by simply changing the feedstock powders, AM can rapidly fabricate materials with various compositions. Thus, MPCs synthesized with various phase compositions using AM is extremely beneficial when selecting the best MPCs for a particular application.  However, due to their ceramic characteristics, AM-processability (hereafter referred to as the term “3D printability”) of MPC is much lower than metal AM, and thereby additional challenges need to be addressed with the team’s expertise. Hence, the overall aim of this research is to develop novel in-situ synthesis techniques with laser AM to produce high performance MPCs, and to increase the 3D printability of MPCs through combined approaches of processing control, feedstock powder granulation, and grain refinement. Upon completion of this project, MPC components with complicated geometrical shapes and superior properties for applications in extreme environments will be additively manufactured. To achieve these aims, the proposed research includes following specific tasks:

  1. To investigate and understand the effects of AM, including laser directed energy deposition (L-DED) and laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF), processing parameters and, feedstock composition (ratio of metal powder to carbide/nitride powder) on the in-situ formation of MPCs during AM.  The influence of the feedstock powder granule properties, such as size and density, will be investigated.  Upon parameter optimization, dense MPC parts can be additively manufactured. This work creates new techniques to produce MPCs parts with complex shape.
  2. To exploit new grain refiners for various MPCs to improve the 3D printability of MPCs through grain refinement when printed within the optimized AM processing window, which enables dense and crack-free MPC parts to be 3D printed. This work represents a breakthrough in both areas of MPCs and AM.
  3. To identify several MCPs for the PO (Gravitas Technologies Pty Ltd) to additively fabricate engineering parts to be used under extreme conditions in aerospace and defence industries through comprehensive laboratory scale studies, and then field trials, based on results of thermodynamic calculations, including MCP fabrication with both L-DED and L-PBF and microstructural and property characterization.  This work will generate new IP and manufacturing capability within Australia.
  4. To correlate the microstructures of printed MPCs with their properties, with focus on the high temperature oxidation resistance and mechanical properties, so that to understand strengthening and oxidation mechanisms. This work will generate new scientific knowledge.

Scholarship value

As a scholarship recipient, you'll receive: 

  • living stipend of $32,192 per annum tax free (2023 rate), indexed annually
  • tuition fees covered
  • single Overseas Student Health Cover (OSHC)


Professor Mingxing Zhang

School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering


Preferred educational background

Your application will be assessed on a competitive basis.

We take into account your

  • previous academic record
  • publication record
  • honours and awards
  • employment history.

A working knowledge of either MAX phase materials or additive manufacturing or ceramics would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of materials science and engineering, manufacturing and chemical engineering and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of MAX phase or ceramics is highly desirable.

Latest commencement date

If you are the successful candidate, you must commence by Research Quarter 4, 2023. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date.

If you are an international applicant, you may need to apply much earlier for visa requirements.

How to apply

You apply for this project as part of your PhD program application.

View application process