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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

30th April 2018, UK

AMRC: Sheffield’s Cluster of Excellence

Recently, I visited the impressive University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), which as reported elsewhere on this site, has just announced a new agreement with GKN Aerospace.

Founded in 2001, the AMRC became the first tenant on the Advanced Manufacturing Park at Catcliffe, South Yorkshire – once the site of the coking plant where the infamous Battle of Orgreave took place during the Miner’s Strike in 1984.

Businesses can work with the AMRC on one-off projects or join as a member for long-term collaboration. © AMRC

The AMRC has subsequently been joined at the site by some very influential neighbours and partners. The Rolls-Royce Factory of the Future was opened in 2008 and expanded in 2012, and during 2017, Boeing announced a £20 million joint venture plant with Sheffield University.

In January this year, McLaren became the latest tenant at the Advanced Manufacturing Park, opening its new £50 million Composites Technology Centre (MCTC) that will begin producing carbon fibre composites for luxury sports cars and supercars in 2019.

From an initial core staff of just nine people, the AMRC has grown into a 700-strong team of specialists and its 100-plus industrial partners range from global giants including Boeing, Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Airbus to SMEs.

The aim of the organisation is to help manufacturers of any size to become more competitive. © AMRC

The aim of the organisation is to help manufacturers of any size to become more competitive by introducing advanced techniques, technologies and processes. It specialises in carrying out research into advanced machining, manufacturing and materials, which is of practical use to industry and composites is one of its eleven core competencies: Machining, Integrated manufacturing, Composites, Castings, Design and Prototyping, Structural Testing, Medical, Additive Manufacturing, Microscopy, Metrology and Virtual Reality.

Businesses can work with the AMRC on one-off projects or join as a member for long-term collaboration.

Composites Centre

The AMRC’s Composite Centre facility focuses on the production and machining of composite components, including hybrid parts which combine high-performance metals and composites in a single structure.

In collaboration with other research and development centres, it employs automated fibre placement (AFP) and advanced robotic filament winding to demonstrate the cost and performance benefits of the technologies.

The AMRC’s Composite Centre facility focuses on the production and machining of composite components. © AMRC

Machining is another important element of the Composite Centre’s focus, with the aim of making subtractive composite processing affordable, fast and safe so that it is more attractive to machine a high value-add component to net shape than to use any other technology.

Also under development are a number of curing systems as an alternative to traditional autoclaving, including  microwave heating, hot pressing, directly heated tooling and in-situ consolidation during AFP.”

AMRC’s Composite Centre employs automated fibre placement (AFP) and advanced robotic filament winding. © AMRC

Four other key areas of development work are:

  • Dry-fibre processing – incorporating work on weaving, braiding, non-crimped fabrics (NCF), tow spreading and dry fibre material characterisation, with the ultimate vision of component unitisation – creating single piece structures.
  • Joining – research into the various methodologies for joining components to create assemblies with reduced manufacturing cost, improved joint design and utilisation and reduced qualification cost.
  • Novel Materials, including bio-composites, metal matrix composites and core materials.
  • The development of process simulation and life-cycle analysis capabilities.

Industrial Strategy

At the Composites UK Annual Conference held at the AMRC on April 18th, Kate Thompson from the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the AMRC is a good working example of how to bring ideas and expertise together to help businesses compete, expand and thrive.

Kate Thompson, from the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). © AMRC

She spoke about progressing the UK’s Industrial Strategy, a blueprint drawn up by government designed to boost productivity and earning power across the country and her work with government and industry to increase domestic market share for advanced materials such as carbon fibre reinforced plastics.

“The fact that the AMRC has brought Boeing and McLaren here is pretty much exactly what the government would want within clusters of excellence and having experts here and drawing in investment is perfect,” she said.

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