Article Source: IMechE

A research and innovation centre will develop “radically different automated manufacturing technologies” to ensure the UK can help meet the world’s growing demand for lighter, stronger materials.

The £36.67m R&D programme will help “define the future of composites,” the National Composites Centre (NCC) at the University of Bristol announced today. The major investment is aimed at the global market, which is predicted to reach $105.8bn by 2020, up 55% from 2013.

Funded by the Aerospace Technology Institute, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the investment aims to “bring composites into the digital age, increasing production rates and quality while improving efficiency and reducing cost”.

Partners will gain access to the next-generation technology, testing new techniques alongside NCC experts. The ultimate aim, said an announcement from the centre, “is to help companies boost productivity and secure the UK’s position at the forefront of high-value manufacturing”.

The 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,” said NCC chief executive Richard Oldfield. “Together, these will help to build confidence and acceptance in new sectors and cement the UK’s position as a world leader in composites.”

The first machine, a combination of automated fibre placement and filament winding capabilities, is already doing research work for industrial partners. Two additional technologies are being built and tested – the largest overbraider in Europe, used to create hollow structures up to 1m in diameter and 10m in length from intertwined fibres, and a uniquely flexible new design of over-moulder, a device that combines materials including fibre-reinforced composite and injection-moulded polymers, to create products with specific properties, such as strengthening beams within a car body panel.

Seven other technologies will be installed by October 2019, including a composite integrity verification cell for non-destructive testing, large-scale liquid composite infusion to build structures such as boat hulls, and automated deposition machines that will radically reduce production times. Together they will give the NCC the ability to produce individual composite parts up to 10m long.

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