Engineering a better world

09 Jun, 2022
 
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Creating life-saving implants for cancer patients and helping launch satellites into space are all in a day’s work for AUT alumnus Kurt Schmidt.

As Production Manager at titanium 3D printing company Zenith Tecnica, Kurt spends his days – and often his nights – making things better for people and the planet.

“The work we do is so critical that when customer orders come in, there’s no slacking,” he explains. “One delay from us could literally hold up a rocket from launching or cost someone their chance of walking again - there’s a lot of pressure.”

Working closely with global implant manufacturer OSSIS, Kurt and his team help craft complex implants for oncology patients with severe pelvic tumours. “Nothing makes us more excited than hearing that the implants we helped manufacture have allowed someone who never thought they’d walk again to be on their feet within six weeks.”

And when he’s not turning revolutionary ideas into medical parts, you’ll find him working on major space projects manufacturing components for satellites.

“Since 2016, we’ve worked with Maxar, one of the world’s most advanced satellite manufacturers. We’ve provided over 260 titanium components which are being used on five different satellites currently in orbit, and we have more than 270 parts in production and assembly on eight other satellites. These satellites are used for everything from imaging and GPS to broadband connections, so our work really is helping the world become more connected.”

Kurt, who is one of the alumni faces featured in AUT’s Find Your Greatness campaign, is an integral part of the burgeoning additive manufacturing industry. Offering a transformative approach to industrial production, he uses computer-controlled processes to create 3D objects by depositing layers of material in precise geometric shapes.

Officially described as an additive manufacturing engineer, Kurt prefers to be thought of as “a 3D printing wizard or maybe just a guy that likes to solve problems”. But whatever you call him, there’s no doubt he’s on a fast track to success in an extremely exciting field. “I joined Zenith Tecnica when I was completing my master’s. In my first month I was part of a structural satellite project, I helped manufacture multiple hip implants and processed some of the largest titanium marine parts to ever be additive manufactured.”

He’s worked his way up fast and is among just a handful of people in Australasia to have completed GE Additive’s EBM (Electron Beam Melting) Material Development Level 3 programme.

“With EBM we’re literally pulling lightning out of a crystal in a vacuum greater than outer space and firing it into metal powder smaller than a human hair!”

Luckily his AUT studies – including a Bachelor of Engineering Technology in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Engineering with Honours (First Class) – helped prepare him for the challenge.

“AUT’s mechanical engineering programme has a strong focus on material science, advanced manufacturing and strength of materials, and teaches students how to implement these to solve realworld problems. This definitely got me job ready!”

Better still, thanks to the industry ties his professor had with Zenith Tecnica, Kurt got his foot in the door to his dream company. In his three years there, he hasn’t looked back.

“Most of our projects involve collaborating with people all over the world, from many different specialised disciplines. There are so many considerations and technical details that go into a design. It’s amazing when all of the moving pieces come together and we’re able to deliver exactly what we promised.”

Now that he’s firmly established at Zenith, Kurt has set his sights on helping double the company’s size. “What we do improves the lives of so many people so being able to help more customers would make me very happy.”

And while he hasn’t thought beyond the next five years, it’s pretty clear that whatever he does will have a positive impact.

“I like to leave things better than I found them. I grew up on Great Barrier Island, and spent years watching, learning and participating in improving our family’s living conditions through implementing technology. The things I saw my dad make out of nothing continue to inspire me – he’d take absolute junk and repurpose it into water heaters, electricity generators and just about anything that was needed.”

So is Kurt on a mission to make the world a better place? “That sounds a little ambitious! I simply try to improve what’s in front of me - and that currently happens to be satellite parts and medical implants.”

Read more inspiring alumni stories

This story was originally published in Insight, the magazine for AUT alumni and friends. Read the most recent issue of Insight for more stories of groundbreaking research and great AUT graduates who are making a difference around the world.

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