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Aurora Labs is bringing its 3D printing technology to the mining sector and iron ore heavyweight Fortescue Metals Group is the first to jump on board.

The 3D printer maker (ASX:A3D) has inked a deal with subsidiaries of Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest’s Fortescue (ASX:FMG).

The two companies will work together to investigate the potential for 3D printing to be used in the mining industry.

Investors didn’t seem to like the news though, with shares sliding nearly 12 per cent to close at 79.5c.

Aurora said the partnership could potentially lead to the development of technology or processes that could cut production and operation costs in the mining and resources sectors.

The company has already shaken hands with Australian engineering firm Worley Parsons, which also services the mining sector, but it’s the first deal done with an actual miner.

Managing director David Budge told Stockhead that within the next six to 12 months Aurora will likely be able to print parts of up to a tonne or more in a day.

“Essentially the full-size machine will be able to print parts up to about the size of a small car,” he said.

“Although, because the technology is scalable we are looking to be able to make much larger printers.”

The application in the mining industry is about allowing the industry to print its own replacement parts much more quickly and cost competitively than having to source them from a supplier.

The main use for miners would be to replace parts that have either failed or need upgrading in a processing plant. The latter is done during what is called a “shutdown”.

“You can understand that sometimes getting parts for shutdowns can be problematic,” Mr Budge said.

“If you can print them in a relatively short timeframe then it makes that whole process a lot more manageable. They can literally print a part on demand.

“It also means that in the event that there’s a failure with a part and you need to get something in a short timeframe, the downtime for not being able to get access to that part can be very, very high – in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour in some instances and sometimes more.

“In which case if you have the capability to print a part and have it ready in an hour or two then that’s a very good business case. Even if it saves 10 hours of downtime a couple of times a year then it’s already paid for itself many times over.”

Mr Budge said Aurora is in talks with several other miners but could not name them for confidentiality reasons.

The mining, oil and gas sectors are a major target market for Perth-based Aurora, but the company is also targeting the marine, aerospace and automotive industries.

The terms of the non-binding term sheet between Aurora and Fortescue are for an initial 12 months and may be extended by mutual agreement.

Aurora is optimistic that a more definitive deal may be reached.