The Bristol-based National Composites Centre has received a £36.7m government investment for research and development, which it says will make the UK a world leader in composites for the aerospace, automotive, and construction sectors.
The £36.7m will reportedly help the National Composites Centre (NCC) to develop 10 new technologies in order to push the state-of-the-art and speed the development of new processes for all forms of composite manufacturing.
Aerospace and automotive companies are expected to be major beneficiaries of the investment. In a statement, the NCC said the growing aerospace sector will need more fuel-efficient aircraft that is less noisy and more eco-friendly:
“Cutting weight is key, so composites will play an essential role in delivering the performance gains required whilst maintaining safety standards,” the centre remarked.
It also claims that the investment in the iCAP programme, which is partly funded by Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) “will bring composites into the digital age, increasing production rates and quality while improving efficiency and reducing cost.”
The timing is apt as global demand for composite products is set to increase by 4.1% each year from 2018 to 2023. It’s predicted that the global composites sector will be worth some US$131bn by 2024, according to the San Francisco-based Grand View Research – double the 2015 figure of US$66bn.
GVR claim this will be driven by the rapid industrialisation of developing Asian economies, rising demand from the automotive industry and the growing wind power industry, alongside growing global demand for new materials to produce lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles and stronger, more durable structures.
To be at the forefront of this change, the NCC is fostering partnerships between aerospace manufacturers, equipment and material suppliers to develop radically different automated manufacturing technologies.
The NCC will deploy experts who can identify and correct issues more quickly, due to the exploitation of information produced by combining computer simulations with actual measured data from manufacturing processes.
The iCAP programme has already installed its first machine. Two additional technologies are currently being built and tested at the National Composites Centre; the first is an ‘over-braider,’ which creates hollow structures up to 1m in diameter and 10m in length from intertwined fibres, and is reportedly the largest in Europe.
The second is an ‘over-moulder.’ This combines materials such as fibre-reinforced composite and injection moulded polymers. Products created with this technology have included football boot soles that are able to flex in certain directions, and strengthening beams within a car body panel. The iCAP over-moulder can produce a product every 60 seconds.
CEO of the National Composites Centre, Richard Oldfield, said that the iCap programme “will deliver a step change in innovation to the composites industry, transforming the scale of the parts that can be made, increasing manufacturing speeds and automating the Non Destructive Testing process. Together, these will help to build confidence and acceptance in new sectors and cement the UK’s position as a world leader in composites.”
Reporting by Harry Wise