In the face of the global challenges to its competitiveness the UK manufacturing sector has undergone a continuing process of major restructuring over three or four decades. However, despite the virtual elimination of much of its high-employment, traditional industries to lower cost mostly far-eastern competition since 1980, nevertheless manufacturing remains an important sector of the UK economy, representing 15% of GDP and 50% of exports (16% and 70% in Scotland). Moreover, manufacturing is expanding both in absolute and relative terms, with manufacturing output growing by 1% as a fraction of GDP over the past 12 months, with many manufacturing companies exporting >90% of their production.
A major plank of recent UK restructuring strategy is the continuing evolution towards high value-added products, increased productivity and specialised science-based solutions to produce increased competitiveness in global markets. Such a strategy demands both high quality underpinning and applied research as well effective engagement across the industry –university interface – perhaps best measured over time by the extent to which industry ‘pull’ can be increased. The SRPe will bring together broad-based set of applied science and engineering talents with the generic objectives of developing new engineering approaches to high value manufacture including technologies for key supply chains.
The principal objectives of the SRPe under the Technologies for High Value Manufacturing theme are to:
- Build an effective coordinating network of academic research groups in the areas relevant to the specific topics identified for action (see below);
- Both collectively and individually to build increased effective engagement with industries especially in northern UK, to demonstrate academic research relevance and benefits and by delivering on our commitments to grow the scale of ‘industry pull’;
- Focus on science-based engineering innovations, seeking disruptive technical solutions, putting in place strong regional linkages to facilitate this;
- Use the SRPe to enhance the quality and status of graduate education in engineering, emphasising R&D and management careers in industry.
Principal Research Topics (Sub-Themes)
The main research activities (Sub-themes) operating within the framework of the SRPe Theme of Technologies High Value Manufacture are as follows:
- Forming Research
- Advanced Micro and Nano Systems
- Industrial Photonics
- Digital Manufacture
Sub-Theme 1: Forming Research
To main objectives of the research is to create major advancements in near-nett-shape manufacturing techniques that will result in sustained process improvements. Many manufacturing processes are not optimised in terms of time, material wastage and energy. This is particularly true in areas where near-nett-shape manufacturing processes are either currently being used or could be adopted in place of material-removal processes.
The mission of the SRPe relating to Forming Research is to:
- Create a world-class community of interdisciplinary researchers capable of initiating and developing innovative manufacturing solutions (products, processes and machinery).
- Provide a modern manufacturing technology environment for researching manufacturing practice, manufacturing technologies and design tools associated with near-nett shape material conversion processes.
- Create new IPR and, where appropriate, spin out new technology companies and/or licence to existing principal manufacturing enterprises.
Resources and Expertise
SRPe Forming Research activities will be based around the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC). The AFRC is a collaborative venture between the University of Strathclyde, Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Government and leading multinational engineering firms including Rolls-Royce, Boeing and Mettis Aerospace. The £25 million Advanced Forming Research Centre to be opened near Glasgow International airport will develop forming and forging technologies to support the design and manufacture of new products, including components and structures for aircraft wings and body parts, engines, cars, ships, medical devices, power generation and wind turbines. The AFRC launch seminar, attended by over 80 delegates from both academic and industrial organisations, took place in June 2009. The bespoke AFRC bulding is expected to open in the second quarter of 2010.
The Centre is managed by the University of Strathclyde and is carrying out a programme of core research in collaboration with its industrial members, as well as further research commissioned by companies around the globe. The research work performed at the AFRC will include developing blue-sky products to lay the foundations of future forming and forging technology, as well as trouble shooting established industrial processes. It is estimated that the worldwide market for the rapidly developing forging industry will grow to $55.7 billion by 2010.
The AFRC activity will incorporate:
- Core research programmes – funded through members’ fees
- Research Council funded projects
- Gearing up members contributions
- Members form ‘ready made’ consortium for funding applications
- Company specific research
- Foresighting informing by global research network and members
The AFRC's first projects (directly funded by industrial contracts) commenced in late 2007 using existing staff and facilities within the University of Strathclyde with work on the core research programmes commencing in 2009. From spring 2010 researchers will be able to exploit a new £16M purpose-built facility incorporating the following:
- Industrial forming machines, including forge, servo and Super Plastic Forming
- (SPF) presses,
- State-of-the-art laboratories including metrology and metallurgy,
Workshops with electro-mechanical and High Performance Computing simulation facility.
Key Research Areas
The AFRC will research the following aspects of near net shape processes, leading to the more efficient and better quality manufacture of products:
AFRC Research Activities
The initial AFRC Research & Development activities will focus on metal forming processes and related supporting technologies and techniques. The research topics in the initial core research programme include:
- Knowledge Management and Coordination Aim: To maximise the exploitation potential of AFRC funded work.
- Forming Roadmapping Aim: To define the long term strategy and research programme for the AFRC.
- Die/tool life Aim: To predict die life and eliminate unscheduled tooling changes
- Process Characterisation Aim: To reduce product variability within screw and hydraulic press operations.
- Residual Stresses Aim: To improve product consistency and component life.
- Production route optimisation Aim: To reduce cost and process cycle time.
- Material Characterisation Aim: To improve component performance.
- Diffusion Bonding and Super Plastic Forming Aim: To reduce tooling cost and process cycle time.
- Low temperature forming of Ti sheet Aim: To facilitate aftermarket repair
- Process Automation Aim: To increase product consistency
This technology focus of the AFRC is informed directly by member organisations and these topics are continually reviewed and developed through interaction with members and reference to fore-sighting activities.
Sub-Theme 2: Advanced Micro and Nano Systems Research
The advanced manufacturing technologies strategic research theme will focus on industry-relevant, interdisciplinary research to address the advancement of electronic and photonic systems and devices that will be based primarily on specific technologies or materials platforms. Such devices and systems will include:
- wireless communication, networks and RF devices for sensors
- physical/chemical/bio sensors and actuators
- low-power VLSI
- packaging, processes, materials and microassembly for MEMS/NEMS
- micro-mechanical power generation
- bioMEMS and micro-fluidics
- microphotonics, nanophotonics and micro-bio-photonics
- nanostructures and bio-electro-mechanical interfaces for nanotechnologies
Strategic research opportunities in this area are: optical-electronic interfaces; optical and millimetre-wave imaging; sensor technology using MEMS; bio-sensitive and bio-compatible materials for biosensors; plasmonic sensors and micro-acoustics, astronomy and space applications, and medical device applications. The requirement for novel design, manufacturing and application-specific engineering of such systems will require multi-disciplinary engineering skills and expertise from design to implementation in diverse domains. An overarching SRPe graduate school will contribute to PhD training in the strategic technical areas listed above
Resources and Expertise
World class expertise and fabrication/experimental resources in these areas can be found at:
- Edinburgh – Institute for Integrated Micro and Nano Systems
- Glasgow - Electronics Design Centre
- Heriot Watt – Microsystems Engineering Centre
- Strathclyde – Centre for Microsystems and Photonics
- Aberdeen: Centre for Micro and Nano Mechanics (CEMINACS)
A strong history of collaboration has existed between the research groups above. Edinburgh and Heriot Watt have formed the Institute of Integrated Systems (IIS) while Glasgow and Strathclyde have a Joint Research Institute covering Electronics, Communications and Power. SRPe will strengthen the collaboration between these Institutes through supporting joint research applications, publication, PhD student supervision and knowledge exchange.
SRPe supported collaboration in the area of Advanced Micro and Nano Systems will strengthen Scotland’s presence in Advanced Micro and Nano Systems and challenge some of the best international groups operating in these research areas. A target of this project is to boost the international standing of the SRPe in this thematic area to such an extent that Scottish based researchers become highly sought-after to participate in international collaborative research in this area.
Sub-Theme 3: Industrial Photonics
The past 20 years has seen a dramatic increase in the impact of photonics-based equipment in everyday life; photonics devices (lasers, optical fibres, displays, sensors, data storage hardware) coupled with modern microelectronics and optics fabrication techniques have moved from the lab into the toolkit of the modern manufacturing engineer as key enabling technologies. This impact is clearly seen across a broad swathe of modern industry including automotive, aerospace, packaging, electronics telecommunications and medical technologies.
The key objectives within the Industrial Photonics sub-theme are to:
- Promote and support photonics-based activity linked to manufacturing within industry and in academia, especially in the northern part of the UK;
- Build a world class networked community of active research groups within the SRPe ambit to provide co-ordination of activities and the capacity to develop innovative manufacturing solutions for new products and manufacturing processes and hardware;
- Seek to provide innovation and science-based solutions both generically to high value manufacturing where photonics technologies can contribute and also to the photonics technology supply chain.
- Actively support SRPe initiatives both in areas of graduate engineering education and relating to knowledge transfer in all its manifestations.
Opportunities to both develop and exploit photonics-based technologies exist in many engineering and manufacturing sectors of the economy, as well as in the supply chain of the photonic =s industry itself, including:
- New application-specific photonics-based solutions;
- Novel laser-material interaction processes and manufacturing applications;
- Photonics-based high precision industrial measurement techniques;
- Sensors for monitoring and control of industrial laser material processing;
- Next generation industrial laser source technologies
- Novel photonics component fabrication technologies;
- Micro-photonics technologies including direct write technologies;
- Applications of photonics in biomedical engineering
Resources and Expertise
World class expertise and outstanding fabrication infrastructure and experimental research facilities in these areas can be found within the frame of SRPe at Scottish Universities including:
- Centre for Industrial Photonics atHeriot Watt University;
- MISEC at HWU and Institute for Integrated Micro and Nano Systems U of Edinburgh;
Collaboration and academic /industrial networking and coordination under the SRPe banner will further strengthen Scotland’s already significant presence in UK photonics-based manufacturing. Scotland already enjoys technical leadership within the UK in many important areas of photonics technology. For example, The Centre for Industrial Photonics at Heriot Watt is a major component of the EPSRC-funded Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (SMI) and was benchmarked as ‘internationally leading by a recent EPSRC international review panel. A major target will be to boost the international SRPe standing in this thematic area so that Scottish-based researchers become highly sought-after for international collaborations.
Sub-Theme 4 – Digital Manufacture
Manufacturing in its broadest sense includes marketing, design, production planning, product support and disposal as well as actual production and it is the integration of these key aspects of product engineering that has been the weakness of many UK companies. Whilst developing products there is a need for a wide variety of digital tools including CAD systems, process planning systems, computerised scheduling systems and process simulations to name but a few and it is the use of well defined, integrated digital manufacturing tools such as these which provide an opportunity to drive concurrency into product engineering facilitating the conversion of designs into manufacturable products. Therefore, in the context of the SRPe, the focus of the Digital Manufacturing sub-theme to investigate product engineering support tools is particularly timely since these 3D interactive technologies and their integration recognises the importance of the high quality and intellectual content embedded within a product throughout all stages of manufacture.
The Digital Manufacturing research sub-theme will concentrate its work on both the strategic aspects of digital tools in the manufacturing domain and those at the tactical level. This will be through investigating novel approaches towards human-centric digital engineering allowing experts to be supported at various stages of the digital manufacturing process, from user awareness of captured 3D textile information and visualisation through to the automated capture and representation of concurrent engineering design and manufacturing process and rationale data via specially designed and analysed digital tools interfaces.
The key objectives of research within this sub-theme are to:
- study human-centric product and process design techniques over a wide range of technological support platforms, evaluating best-fit support systems throughout the manufacturing process;
- investigate context-based design and manufacture knowledge capture and engineering data retrieval methods;
- expand research in the specific domain of surface texture, capture, perception and retrieval with a view to understanding the link between human awareness and digital representation;
- integrate the fields of psychophysics, engineering task analysis and 3D product engineering environments such that a novel and crucial understanding of engineering systems, interfaces, 3D environments and technologies can be obtained with regard to supporting creative engineering activities throughout the manufacturing life cycle;
- create and lead a high-profile worldwide research network in the domain of digital manufacturing to the benefit of Scottish and UK industry and transfer this technology to its competitive advantage;
- identify digital manufacturing research issues of mutual interest to the Forming Research, Advanced Micro- and Nano- Systems and Industrial Photonics sub-themes within this proposal, enabling research exploitation and mutual technology transfer with regard to product design, process simulation and manufacturing data generation;
- provide exemplars of best practice for industry;
- be internationally leading in its research, with a particular emphasis on producing high quality, high status graduate engineers for Scottish and UK industry.
Considerable opportunities exist with to develop and exploit research in the digital manufacturing domain. The formalisation of methods for engineering rationale and knowledge capture, of crucial importance to companies and engineering system vendors, e.g. CAD/CAM developers, is one area which can potentially give them a market lead in system development and product support. The representation of texture-based perceptual behavioural data for use in interactive, digital interfaces, e.g. via the internet, will be central to providing the capability to represent to the user a truly digital experience of the tactile nature of surfaces through haptics, in its generic sense a key challenge to industry. There is the capability and challenge for the mass customisation of individual manufacturing engineering and customer-oriented environments, allowing identification of individual user states in conjunction with associated engineering tasks to allow systems to automatically adjust to suit user needs, again supporting rapid product development and manufacture. Already demonstrated within the IMRC at Heriot Watt is the capability of 3D interaction for the generation of usable manufacturing data via novel 3D interfaces, e.g. haptic machining and assembly planning, immersive virtual reality (VR) concurrent design and manufacturing planning and automated rationale capture, to actively interface with engineering companies in systems applications. Novel manufacturing and assembly planning interfaces for products of all scales can also be exploited as instantiations of potential applications are published. In all of these cases, as well as others, there will be considerable technology transfer opportunities in a wide range of forms, e.g. knowledge transfer partnerships, spin-out companies, intellectual property agreements, etc.
Resources and Expertise
Key partners at the launch of the Digital Manufacture Sub-Theme within the SRPe are the Centre for Digital Manufacture, which is a major component in the EPSRC-funded Innovative Manufacturing Research Centre (SMI) at Heriot Watt, and the Design and Manufacture Research group at Strathclyde University. Using it as a foundation for this research, the internationally leading Digital Tools Group within the SMI at Heriot-Watt University occupy a set of high quality, laboratories with a wide variety of 3D product engineering systems from 3D CAD through to immersive VR and haptic-based virtual environments (VEs). Additional opportunities exist to utilise well equipped VE laboratories comprising, amongst other things, a virtual wall, human motion capture systems and 3D projection systems; ideal for ergonomic analysis of system users, as well as the comprehensively equipped Advanced Manufacturing Unit
The research activities of the Centre for Digital Manufacture within the IMRC at Heriot Watt were recently rated ‘Internationally Leading’ by an international review panel assembled by EPSRC. This high reputation for quality research at the leading edge is also reflected by the number, range and international standing of the companies with whom the Centre is engaged