Professor Richard Williams of the University of Birmingham talks about the Manufacturing Technology Centre, and its impact on the future of UK manufacturing.
Shaping a bright future for British manufacturing requires joined up thinking between industry, academia and the government. The growing recognition that the UK cannot solely rely on the financial sector has shifted the focus on to manufacturing as an integral part of a balanced economy.
Manufacturing is a major contributor to the UK economy, contributing 10% of UK gross value added, directly employing in excess of 2.5 million people and in world rankings is the 9th largest manufacturer. The sector accounts for 50% of all exports and 75% of business R&D conducted in the UK. We are seeing increasing investment from large national and global manufacturing companies in new technologies to enable innovation, increase productivity and ultimately boost the bottom line.
Within manufacturing, it is investment in high value manufacturing that will bring about long term gains and sustainable growth for the UK. High value manufacturing needs to be fast paced and innovative to achieve global competitiveness; to do this, manufacturers will need access to the latest equipment and capabilities to launch pioneering products, processes and services to market. The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) was created to deliver this innovation to UK industry.
Inspiring Great British Manufacturing
The MTC represents one of the largest public sector investments in manufacturing for many years and is housed in a 12,000 square metre purpose built facility at Ansty Park, Coventry. It is a partnership between some of the UK’s major global manufacturers and the universities of Birmingham, Nottingham and Loughborough, and TWI Ltd. The MTC has more than 50 industrial members representing large OEMs, Tier 1 suppliers and SMEs from across a wide range of industry sectors. MTC is part of the elite UK centres that form the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, which is supported by the Technology Strategy Board, set up to provide a stimulus for British manufacturing and to deliver manufacturing and process technology support to industry.
The MTC was created with the aim of raising the UK’s competitive advantage by validating and implementing concepts identified from primary research. The centre provides a unique environment bringing the country’s leading academics, engineers and industry professionals together to develop and demonstrate new technologies on an industrial scale. This allows MTC’s clients to develop new manufacturing processes in a safe, neutral industrial setting, whilst reducing the associated financial risks. The open-access environment of MTC is conducive to collaboration and provides a strong platform for stakeholders to have strong interaction with industrial members.
The Centre provides a flexible approach to working with both large and small companies and offers a tailored service designed to meet the needs of individual companies which ranges from consultancy support for specific problems to a long-term relationship for programme based projects. The MTC membership represents a diverse range of companies across a number of sectors including aerospace automotive, transport, healthcare, ICT, robotics, food production, defence and marine showing the demand for innovation across industry.
The MTC specialises in a range of manufacturing technologies and processes that are particularly important to the high value manufacturing sector and were identified by its original founding partners and industrial members. These are: Intelligent Automation, Advanced Tooling and Fixturing, Electronics Manufacturing, High Integrity Fabrication, Manufacturing Simulation and Informatics, Metrology and Non Destructive Testing and Net Shape and Additive Manufacturing. For example figure 2 shows scale-up of powder based net shape formation of an engine casing based on technology from the University of Birmingham.
Delivering innovative solutions to industry
A culture of creativity, innovation and continuous improvement drives our work at MTC. It is this forward thinking that allows MTC engineers to identify the mechanisms for ground-breaking solutions that drive competitive advantage. The examples below demonstrate meaningful collaborations between MTC, industry and University partners. [Note to editors you could select from this list below, if necessary]:
Remanufacturing the future
RECLAIM is a cutting edge project that will generate significant cost savings for industry through remanufacturing high value components. The RECLAIM project uses laser cladding, automated inspection and high speed machining in a single, fully integrated re-manufacturing cell. The technology enables manufacturers to repair and recycle worn, high value components such as turbine blades to a consistently high quality. The innovation is expected to make a major contribution to the efficiency of the aerospace, defence and power industries in particular. As well as repairing damaged and worn parts, the system can be used to manufacture totally new complex metal parts, upgrade obsolete parts and reconfigure standard parts for low volume applications.
Materials development for Mars sample return
The MTC is involved in a project to undertake feasibility study methods of producing crash-resistant foams for protecting the Mars Sample Return module from damage during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Mars Sample Return is a flagship mission of the European Space Agency, the safe return of samples from the Martian surface is a future key space technology, integral to answering key questions about life on other planets.
The MTC are working with Magna Parva Ltd, an SME engineering consultancy that develops mechanisms for use in extreme environments, including space exploration. Together, they will investigate the potential to use additive manufacturing to produce titanium lattice structures which will withstand the high re-entry temperatures and shock loading when the canister hits the earth.
Using additive manufacturing to support a life-saving skull operation
A young girl seriously hurt in a road accident successfully came through a life-saving skull operation, with the help of a team of scientists and engineers at the MTC. Experts at the MTC used the centre’s advanced three dimensional modelling technology to generate a template of a large piece of the girl’s skull needed to repair a large hole resulting from the accident. Using a CT scanner, surgeons took precise digital measurements of the patient’s skull. This data was then sent to the MTC to be converted into a 3D model of the girl’s anatomy. Engineers at the MTC embarked on a rapid generation of a model of the damaged region of the skull using advanced three dimensional additive manufacturing equipment supplied by MTC member, HP.
The model produced by the MTC was used by Dr Frank Johnson, consultant anaplastologist at the Northern General Hospital, to generate a ceramic former which was used to shape a sheet of thin titanium to cover the hole.
MTC Expertise speeds up Formula One engineering
Cutting-edge programming technology, developed with the help of the MTC, will speed up engineering processes for the exacting demands of Formula One racing.
Towcester-based Sandwell UK Limited carries out surface coating and shot-peening processes for Formula One cars. The processes produces stress layers which strengthen the mechanical properties of metal parts. Because of the demands of F1, parts of the highest quality are needed quickly. Some parts may be designed and manufactured in the days before being fitted to race cars for the next event.
Sandwell needed a way of speeding up the process with more automation and less need for operator involvement. Engineers at the MTC have developed a system which robotically scans the surface of the part and rapidly programmes the path of the shot-peening robot from the scanned geometry. The result is a much faster response time, a fully-automated and efficient process and a high level of accuracy.
Team GB swimmers supported by Loughborough University and Manufacturing Technology Centre collaboration
Scientists and engineers at the MTC are supporting the manufacturing of components of a new system, which can track swimmers’ movements wirelessly through water.
The system has been designed and developed at Loughborough University’s Sports Technology Institute and Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering.
The sensor system generates comprehensive data on the swimmer’s body position, speed and acceleration and enables coaches to provide feedback and advice that more immediate and more detailed than previously possible.
The data is accessed via a laptop, and can be used by coaches with the expertise to interpret the information to suggest changes to the swimmer’s technique at the poolside during training. It can even analyse the swimmer’s movements and techniques as they dive into the pool.
The Loughborough team developed a range of sensing and motion-tracking technologies for use in the system. Now these technologies have been assembled into one integrated package by technology specially designed and packaged by the researchers to enable data to be transmitted wirelessly through water.
A different landscape for the future of UK Manufacturing
In achieving its membership and revenue targets 7 years ahead of plan, MTC has enjoyed phenomenal success from a standing start. There is no plan to slow down with expansion plans already in progress to respond to industry’s needs. MTC has recognised that the growth potential of the sector will be constrained by a skills shortage, an issue their industrial members substantiate and are keen to address through the Manufacturing Technology Training Academy.
To be truly effective the next generation of engineers and technicians must have the skills and capability to implement the processes and techniques that are being developed in high value manufacturing. It is for this reason that MTC is advocating the construction of a Training Academy as the next stage of its development. The Centre has also developed visitor access to enable school and interested parties to view the activities from public viewing space.
MTC hopes to challenge previously held perceptions about the future of high value manufacturing through the creation of a Manufacturing Training Academy at its Ansty Park site. Britain became great because of scientific invention, engineering wit and a strong manufacturing base – we now have the opportunity to renew that heritage around authentic partnerships between universities and industry.
The MTC will be the venue for The Royal Academy of Engineering Soiree in 2014. Further details of the Centre can be seen at www.the-mtc.org.