The human race is always finding new ways to make the world a better place through technology. A place that is stronger, more functional and more sustainable for us all. One of the pillars in achieving this collective goal is engineering. More specifically, Advanced Materials Processing and Manufacturing (AMPAM) and precision engineering.
But what exactly are these fields? And what role do they play in the development of a more sustainable society?
To gain some answers, we spoke to two international PhD students from the University of Queensland (UQ), Yitian Zhao and Ju Yao. From their specialisations to their unique ambitions, we explore their involvement in these fascinating industries and take a deeper dive into the world of AMPAM and precision engineering.
Crossing global borders to get involved in the field
Originally from China, Yitian Zhao came to Australia in 2014 to complete his bachelor’s degree at UQ. He eventually completed his master’s before enrolling in a PhD program in the School of Mechanical & Mining Engineering. The focus of his research is the development of advanced surface engineering techniques.
Fellow UQ student, Ju Yao, also moved to Australia from China. She arrived in 2018 to get her master’s degree and continued to a PhD. Her research investigates the effect that hydrogen has on additively manufactured advanced structural materials. Hydrogen often causes these materials to become fragile and break down. Ju’s aim is to examine this relationship and find alternative solutions to work around this effect.
What is AMPAM and precision engineering?
AMPAM is dedicated to the discovery and development of new materials and engineering technologies. These innovations are designed to benefit Australia’s key industries.
According to Yitian, some of these industries include:
“[AMPAM] covers all kinds of materials, [including] polymers, metals, ceramics and composites,” he explains.
While bearing a few similarities, precision engineering is a bit different. Precision engineering is the process of designing a machine so that it can achieve a certain level of performance. Closely aligned with the field of manufacturing, it combines various types of engineering.
“Precision engineering is a sub-discipline of electrical engineering, software engineering and mechanical engineering,” says Ju. “[It is] concerned with designing very precise machines, fixtures and other structures.”
The role of advanced materials in building a sustainable future
Yitian and Ju share the belief that both fields are necessary to achieve and maintain a sustainable society. This sentiment is echoed by official organisations within the sector, including the International Association of Advanced Materials (IAAM).
According to IAAM, advanced materials’ resources are key to reaching the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For instance, the AMPAM industry has created major improvements across lots of industries around the world. Such progress has helped build wealth and prosperity in various countries, contributing to the SDG of ending poverty.
AMPAM and precision engineering also have a huge impact on access to affordable and clean energy. Both industries are responsible for developing materials like advanced ceramics and corrosion-resistant coatings, which are used to build structures like wind turbines and solar panels. Precision engineers contribute to the design and construction of these products. Such development is crucial in transforming the energy sector and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
IAAM also states that advanced materials will help ensure zero hunger, access to clean drinking water and many of the other SDGs.
Studying in Queensland: A unique advantage
When it came to selecting a study location, Queensland was an easy choice for both students.
Yitian explains that Queensland is “very supportive” of AMPAM and precision engineering research. He adds that UQ has been an excellent educational institution, as it boasts the Centre for Advanced Materials Processing and Manufacturing.
Ju also mentions that this research centre has been beneficial in her studies.
“Our researchers take a multidisciplinary approach to engineering problems,” she says. “We collaborate and capitalise on emerging trends in manufacturing. [We also examine] innovations in material development.
“We’re in a unique position to create positive and long-lasting impacts in [various] industries. [These sectors] will determine how sustainable our future will be.”
Of course, the benefits of living and studying in Queensland aren’t limited to campus. Yitian and Ju say that there are many other perks that come with living in the Sunshine State. Some of these include the relaxed lifestyle, travel opportunities and beautiful climate.
The future of AMPAM and precision engineering
The future of these collaborative industries is looking incredibly promising.
“I personally believe the future of AMPAM is very bright,” says Yitian. “It will shape our industries to be more productive, energy-efficient, reliable and sustainable. [Since] AMPAM covers a wide range of industries, I think employment will keep growing in the coming years.”
Ju echoes this sentiment, saying that she first chose her field because she is confident in its potential.
“In my opinion, new materials and production processes will be constantly improving. I certainly hope that this field will provide more opportunities in the future,” she shares.
As they look to the future, both students plan to watch the industry evolve while working towards their own goals. As he nears the end of his PhD, Yitian aims to continually enrich his knowledge and expand his research areas. He has recently started working as a research officer and hopes to one day become an educator.
As for Ju, she is focusing on successfully completing her PhD. As she progresses in her career, her goal is to make a significant contribution to the field.
Making your mark as an international student
Are you hoping to get involved in these industries yourself? If so, Yitian and Ju have some invaluable pearls of wisdom.
Firstly, Yitian stresses that knowledge of “material science and engineering [are] important.” Meanwhile, Ju emphasises that proficiency in engineering-related software programs is vital. She recommends exploring beginner-friendly tools like AutoCAD and MATLAB, which are used for the design and development of mechanical products.
Ju also says that active participation in the community is a must. Don't be afraid to participate in research activities and attend events. Such initiatives are great for building your networks and finding interesting work opportunities.
As an international student, it can be tough to venture outside your comfort zone. But according to Yitian, effort and patience will go a long way in ensuring your success.
“It may take some time to adapt to the language and the teaching style,” he says. “But as long as you keep trying, you can get a lot out of your experience.”