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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

11th December 2018, Bristol

NCC’s £36.7 million iCAP is the latest boost for the UK

Despite the current confusion surrounding the UK’s position with the European Union, a series of significant investments have been announced aimed at boosting the country’s aerospace, automotive and construction sectors.

In the latest news, the National Composites Centre (NCC) in Bristol reports that it has secured funding for the new £36.7 million iCAP (Digital Capability Acquisition) programme.

NCC has secured funding for the new £36.7 million iCAP programme. © National Composites Centre

Ten new technologies, tailor-made to the NCC’s specifications, are to be installed in order to push the state of the art and speed the development of new processes for all forms of composite manufacturing.

Funded, in part, by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), in collaboration with the Local Enterprise Partnership and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, the iCAP programme will bring composites into the digital age, increasing production rates and quality while improving efficiency and reducing cost. 

Next generation technology

NCC partners, in sectors ranging from aerospace and transport to construction and FMCG, will gain access to next generation technology and be able to test new techniques alongside the NCC’s expert team. The ultimate aim of the programme is to help companies boost productivity and secure the UK’s position at the forefront of high value manufacturing.

The timing is apposite as global demand for composite products is set to increase by 4.1% each year from 2018 to 2023.  It is predicted that the market will be worth $105.8 billion by 2020, up 55% from 2013, as the world looks for new materials to produce lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles and stronger, more durable structures.

Ten new technologies are to be installed in order to push the state of the art. © National Composites Centre

The aerospace sector, for example, needs to replace an aging global fleet of passenger and freight planes with more fuel-efficient aircraft, compliant with increasingly stringent noise and emissions legislation. Cutting weight is key, so composites will play an essential role in delivering the performance gains required whilst maintaining safety standards. The scale of the manufacturing challenge is huge. Aircraft manufacturers are building at the highest rate ever and the trend is set to continue as demand continues to grow.

Partnerships

In response to this challenge, the NCC is fostering partnerships between aerospace manufacturers, equipment and material suppliers to develop radically different automated manufacturing technologies.

Two key goals of the NCC’s initiative is to apply data-led methodologies to increase composite production rates and create a new generation of engineers with both the understanding and the ambition to realise the potential of the new technologies.  For example, NCC’s experts will show how potential issues can be identified and corrected far more quickly, thanks to the richer and more actionable information produced by combining computer simulations with actual measured data from manufacturing processes.

Two additional technologies are currently being built and tested at the NCC’s base in Bristol, an overbraider and a uniquely flexible new design of over-moulder. © National Composites Centre

 One of iCAP’s major projects is linked to Wing of Tomorrow partnership project launched in 2015 by Airbus and involving a number of companies including, Spirit and GKN. Other aerospace developments for iCAP include Rolls-Royce and Airbus Ultra Fan cowling and GE Dowty’s composite propeller manufacturing.

It’s not all about aerospace, however – sectors including automotive, construction, marine, oil, gas and the renewable energy industries also stand to benefit. High-speed injection moulding, overbraiding and automated forming methods, for example, have multiple applications in the automotive industry, where manufacturers demand one minute cycle times and production-line-ready parts straight out of the mould.

New combination

The first iCAP machine has already been installed and brought on line – an innovative combination of automated fibre placement and filament winding capabilities, it is already delivering research work to UK-industry. Two additional technologies are currently being built and tested at the National Composites Centre’s base in Bristol, an overbraider, used to create hollow structures up to 1 metre in diameter and 10 metre in length  from intertwined fibres, which is the largest of its kind in Europe, and a uniquely flexible new design of over-moulder – a device which combines materials such as fibre-reinforced composite and injection moulded polymers. This is able to create products with specific properties, such as the sole of a football boot which flexes in a certain directions, or a strengthening beam within a car body panel. The new iCAP overmoulder is also fully automated and able make a product every 60 seconds.

The iCAP programme will bring composites into the digital age. © National Composites Centre

Seven other technologies will be installed by October 2019 and include A composite integrity verification cell for non-destructive testing and a 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 10 metres long across a broader range of processes and bolster its position as a world leader in automated deposition know-how.

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

Further investments

It’s been a significant time for UK investments. As previously reported, in November, McLaren opened its £50 million Automotive Composites Technology Centre in Sheffield at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC). The AMRC too, continues to take delivery of an armoury of new composites technology, including the country’s largest radial braider, a Krauss Maffei RimStar Compact for the high pressure resin transfer moulding (HP-RTM) process and a 10,000 kN Rhodes hydraulic press.

The University of Central Lancashire’s new £35 million Engineering Innovation Centre (EIC) is currently under construction in readiness for its completion in early 2019, and this week, the £60 million Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre is also set to officially launch.

It will become the UK’s second state-of-the-art graphene facility complementing the activity of the National Graphene Institute (NGI). Together the two centres will cement Manchester’s position as the home of graphene fifteen years after the material was first isolated at the University.

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