Delivering results – Surface Engineering Group progress

Materials World magazine
1 Aug 2010
Cutting the wear load arm

Work on a number of different projects to enhance manufacturing processes in the north of England has stemmed from the Surface Engineering Group. Wavell Coulson, Technology Transfer Manager from the National Metals Technology Centre, Rotherham, UK, highlights the progress made.

The UK’s Surface Engineering Group (SEG) is sponsored by regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward and The European Development Fund, and provides technical, analytical and testing support as well as advice, training and innovative coating and treatment solutions to address the needs of industry. The SEG draws upon the combined expertise and resources within UK-based organisations the National Metals Technology Centre (NAMTEC), Corus RD&T, TWI Ltd, the Materials & Engineering Research Institute (MERI) at Sheffield Hallam University and the Research Centre in Surface Engineering (RCSE), in the Engineering Materials Department at the University of Sheffield. Here are some at more advanced stages:

1) Developing unique wear test capability:
Cutting & Wear Resistant Developments UK Ltd is a Rotherham-based company, which manufactures high-quality drill-string components for oil- and gas-exploration. The company develops and supplies a range of hard-facing equipment and consumables. In 2008, company Technical Resources Manager, Rebecca Johns, approached the SEG in the Engineering Materials Department at the University of Sheffield, to assist in developing and instrumenting a novel wear test rig, to simulate conditions of combined abrasion and impact typically encountered during rock drilling. A fully-instrumented electronic interface (with data logging and feedback control) continuously monitors the performance of the wear rig and provides detailed reports on the wear characteristics of the materials being evaluated.

In-field testing of new rock drilling equipment is time consuming and often prohibitively expensive. However, the ability to perform detailed off line wear tests has so far been limited and the results unreliable. The new test capability, developed with SEG assistance, has enabled the company to test comprehensively the performance of existing and novel hard facing materials in a laboratory environment, while accurately replicating the in-field conditions commonly experienced by drill string components. The new testing capability may, in future, be made available to others in the industry as an off line wear simulation and evaluation service.

2) Provision of Analytical Services to the Sheffield Assay Office:
Sheffield Analytical Service is a part of the Sheffield Assay Office (SAO), UK, and provides analysis of, among other things, precious metals. A supplier of costume jewellery approached SAO for the analysis of a large number of jewellery items. While SAO was able to complete part of the contract, it did not have some of the more sophisticated analytical facilities required, meaning the work could not be completed in-house. Approaching the SEG resulted in contact with the Surface Science Research Group at Corus RD&T, IJmuiden, Holland, which has the equipment needed.

In total, 36 different pieces of jewellery were submitted, to determine the coating chemistry and layer thickness. The work required the use of two different techniques, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and scanning electron microscopy. Analysis revealed the items to be more sophisticated than just a plated layer on a base metal. In some cases, the coating consisted of many layers with different chemistries and varying thicknesses, in others, a thin organic coating had been applied to the external surface – presumably to prevent tarnishing. Other items had a metallic layer consisting of an alloy containing up to four different metals.

Only through working with SEG was SAO able to offer a complete service to their client. Access to facilities such as those offered through the SEG should allow further contracts to be delivered.

3) Nano-characterisation of sub-surface physical vapour deposition coating:

Kostal UK Ltd, Located in Rotherham, is a manufacturer of automobile electrical products. They are a supplier to a number of prestige vehicle manufacturers who are demanding applications of surface technologies to differentiate their vehicles in the automotive market.

Kostal approached Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) for support in the development of high quality reflective coatings for the automotive market from the SEG. The component consisted of a combination of organic, inorganic and physical vapour deposition components to give an enhanced aesthetic appeal.

Sheffield Hallam University used its expertise to assist in the optimisation of this coating system by performing microstructure characterisation using optical microscopy, 3D micro surface profilometry, micro-indentation and nano-scale scanning electron microscopy with elemental analysis.

The results of the SHU report enabled Kostal to define its requirements to its coating supplier and obtain an improved product.

Further information: The National Metals Technology Centre