A closer look

Posted on 11 May 2011 by The Manufacturer

As part of our closer look at the EPSRC centres, TM looks at the three Centres for Innovative Manufacturing led by three universities - Cranfield, Loughborough and Strathclyde.

Through-life engineering services – Cranfield and Durham universities

Designing for total cost of ownership
Manufacturing and services are now so well integrated that ‘manuservices’ has become the chief business model for several large manufacturers, especially for makers of very complex products.

Rolls-Royce has become famous for selling ‘power by the hour’ rather than aero engines. BAE Systems, Bombardier Transport, GE and other big engineers do the same – selling ‘total cost ownership’ packages covering availability rather than equipment. “In 2010, 48 per cent of our revenue was derived from the delivery of ‘services’, which comprises readiness and sustainment – that is training, maintenance and upgrade of military equipment – and cyber and intelligence,” says Kate Watcham, head of external communications at BAE Systems in Farnborough.

The EPSRC centre for Through-life Engineering Services, led by Cranfield University, will analyse the interface of these disciplines in great detail. By doing so, the centre aims to save companies a lot of money in maintenance, repair and overhaul, or MRO. “Through-life engineering services is about understanding MRO and their relationship with manufacturing processes,” says centre leader Professor Rajkumar Roy of Cranfield University.“How can we select better manufacturing processes for maintenance, and similarly design products with better optimised through-life maintenance?” Cranfield partners with Durham University here, where Durham brings electronics expertise in areas like self-healing mechanisms and electro-mechanical systems. Lecturer in design informatics at Durham University Dr Peter Matthews says that throughlife engineering is capturing more MRO data and feeding back to the design stage. “There is a shifting paradigm from pure selling, where ownership of the device is transferred from the manufacturer to the user, to Rolls-Royce’s ‘power by the hour’ model where the manufacturer retains ownership of the unit and effectively sells its functionality,” he says. “Now manufacturers are paying the bill for the product’s lifecycle costs. This changes the nature of how you design products – companies are now more concerned about how efficiently products run.

Previously, while performance was important, they were more worried about just selling it.”

What specifically will the Centre do?
One of the big shifts in making big mechanical assets like aeroengines and wind turbines is the introduction of availability-type contracts or total-care type contracts. “The manufacturer is taking more responsibility for longer through-life performance of the machine, and often they are expected to guarantee performance over a period of time, for a fixed price,” says Prof Roy. “Now they have to take responsibility for maintenance to achieve availability, and predictability, of systems. The centre is going to improve our knowledge by developing techniques to study what are the main problems in service, and how they link with actual manufacturing processes.

For example; how do tolerances impact on life of components?” Simultaneously, the centre will look at the relationship between mechanical systems and electronic systems. “We will study what’s called ‘no faults found problems’, trying to find the root cause of those both from within mechanical, electronics and software interaction projects,” adds Professor Roy. The Centre will work on data analysis processes for mechanical components, self-healing algorithms for electronics, as well as physical demonstrators to show to industry how designs can be improved for better through-life availability.

“It’s effectively insurance,” says Dr Matthews.

“You’re moving risk from the operator back to the manufacturer. The manufacturer is able to take the responsibility and therefore change the design to improve reliability – it’s a virtuous circle.” Isn’t the danger that the better these assets are maintained, the fewer units will be sold? “Manufacturers get a lifetime of income now,” says Matthews. “So the change may be from the model where you had to sell many, to selling fewer but gaining revenue streams from the availability contracts.” Professor Roy says that the Centre plans to develop the discipline for energy, like wind turbines and maintaining nuclear plants. The third area is large medical equipment – CT and MRI scanners – which have regular maintenance to achieve demanding availability. “The overall objective is to reduce whole life cost for these big components,” he says.

Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation – Led by University of Strathclyde

SME sees the benefit of collaboration to access lucrative market
The EPSRC centre with the one of the widest groups of academic and industrial partners – seven universities and at least 10 companies – the Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Continuous Manufacturing and Crystallisation will develop ways to scale-up from batch manufacturing to fully continuous manufacturing processes for high value chemical products.

Dr Graham Ruefield works for Prosonix, a company based at the Oxford Science Park that manufactures improved performance drug particles for respiratory disease. He heard about the Strathclyde centre through NiTech, a spin out from Heriot-Watt University involved in oscillatory flow chemistry. What is this technique? “Too often in the past the industry has relied pon batch crystallisation,” says Dr Ruefield. “Manufacture is so dependent on the super-saturation history of the crystallisation; in some cases the last material coming out of solution is dissimilar to the first material, or you bring too much material out.

Switching to continuous crystallisation should produce a consistent product in a continuous fashion, and represents a positive way forward for pharmaceutical manufacture.” Prosonix has some intellectual property in continuous manufacturing crystallisation, but is not in a position to develop fully-blown, scaled-up crystallisation methods. Their example shows why collaboration with universities is essential for the full exploitation of these technologies. “The opportunity is to look at a variety of methods, anything from microchannel reactors to bulk processing, and large scale continuous oscillatory flow where NiTech has a strong influence. Prosonix can assist in some of areas which apply our key skills, such as the use of proprietary ultrasonic (i.e. power ultrasound) equipment to help with the crystallisation. If we can help develop these methods with academia and other companies, with funding behind it, the potential rewards are great.”

Regenerative Medicine – Loughborough University

With big names like Rolls-Royce, Ford and Unilever linked to the EPSRC centres, can the small guy get a look in? Yes – in fact, some centres have made it a mission statement to engage SMEs in their work.

Professor David Williams runs the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Regenerative Medicine at the Wolfson School at Loughborough University.

It is one of the original EPSRC Centres launched in 2010. A well as working with blue chips like Pfizer and Smith & Nephew, Prof Williams says: “Research projects will be conducted in direct and indirect (via technology platform suppliers) collaboration with SME partners both using EPSRC Centre funding and Technology Strategy Board funding in regenerative medicine,” says Williams. “Projects are concerned with both hard technology and softer issues. The regenerative medicine sector shares many of the features of the medical device sector – particularly, that it is extremely heterogeneous and includes a large proportion of SMEs.

“There is also an expectation that there will be an open innovation model and that ultimately many of the SMEs will be acquired by large companies and that these companies will provide the route to market for their technologies. This is an acquisition model rather than a supply chain model and probably reflects the emerging nature of the industry. The EPSRC Centre will also actively cultivate a network of SMEs, especially to listen to and understand their requirements.” CellMedica, Intercytex, RegenTec, TAP Biosystems and Tigenix are among the SMEs that the Regenerative Medicine centre works with.

Assistance with regulation is another important role for the EPSRC centres. Prof Williams says that his centre will “champion the voice of SMEs within the reimbursement, standards and regulatory environment, another role we consider critical because emerging standards and regulatory approaches and reimbursement issues can add considerable burdens to small and fragile businesses. Communicating the perspectives of SMEs to government will also continue to be a key advocacy role for the EPSRC Centre.”