Working with academia to advance lightweight aluminium

Anthony Evans, managing director of leading precision diecasters, Sarginsons Industries, talks about the company’s growing links with the best of UK Academia, and why it's gone back to University to help deliver the materials and the manufacturers of tomorrow.

Anthony Evans, managing director, Sarginsons Industries
Anthony Evans, managing director, Sarginsons Industries.

Sarginsons was recently involved in a debate about the differences between employing graduates and apprentices, and while there are a great number of benefits to both, we could see a key area to help future graduates deliver practical solutions.

As a consequence 2014 has seen us take significant steps to further develop our relationships with some of the UK’s leading academic institutions.

Why does this matter?

Our ambition of retaining our position as a leading centre of excellence, built on the cornerstones of research, leadership and best practice, requires us to continually invest in advancing the materials and technology we use. Only by doing this are we able to create the most reliable, lightweight, strongest and most technologically advanced components available.

This year Sarginsons was pleased to be selected as the Industrial Partner for Aluminium and Magnesium Low Pressure Diecasting for Brunel University’s new Advanced Metal Casting Centre (AMCC).

This £14m revolutionary new centre will see Sarginsons working to help bridge the gap between research, imagination and practical implementation. Collaborating on a range of important projects that will literally change the way aluminium automotive structures are manufactured and which will result in ever lighter, ever stronger, automotive components.

Our role at the AMCC has already seen Sarginsons contribute to the design of the world-leading research facility, to be completed in early 2015, and this is when we expect our practical work to really start to deliver.

Sarginsons will be bringing decades worth of hands-on industry expertise to the table, combined with the academic insight offered by staff, to help us train those future graduates who will lead UK manufacturing.

The reality is that graduates are taught to think, to be creative, to analyse, to push the boundaries, and importantly, to study in a logical, structured manner, and by combining those skills with practical training from industry professionals with seasoned know-how, we’ll be able to harness ideas and turn them into workable lightweight solutions and repeatable processes that can be used not in the laboratory, but in the manufacture of real components.

Our vision is already very much a reality, and we’ve realised that to pioneer research into this area, we will achieve faster results by combining our skills with those of our leading universities.

However our academic links don’t stop there. As well as our role at AMCC, we are involved in another exciting new research project, “Make it Lighter with Less”, which will see us team up with JLR and a number of other leading industrial organisations.

The focus of this research will be to develop lightweight energy absorbing aluminium structures for automotive use. In simple terms what this means is that we’ll be making safety critical elements for vehicles out of aluminium, rather than the heavier, less sustainable, steel.

The technical characteristics of aluminium are perfectly suited to creating structures with both high rigidity and high absorption levels. Making aluminium the perfect fit for automotive manufacturers chasing more energy efficient vehicles.

As a business, one of the ways we are able to make innovation work is because of R&D tax credits. As an SME, we may have less available funds to innovate, however, we can make this worthwhile by understanding the help available to us, whether that’s grants or tax breaks.

So while innovation, and partnerships with academia may feel out of reach for some businesses, it’s worth understanding all the options available, because the pathway to innovation is more accessible than we think.