Q&A: Paul Davies

Materials World magazine
20 Dec 2018

Paul Davies, Head of Engineering at University of South Wales, UK, talks to Ellis Davies about the university’s new aerospace academy in Dubai, UAE.

Why was Dubai chosen for the academy?

The Dubai campus location, Dubai South, is a planned city of a million people located next to Al Maktoum International Airport, which is set to become the world’s largest airport, handling an estimated 220 million passengers and 16 million tonnes of cargo each year.

Being involved with Dubai South as it develops into a major hub on the global stage will mean that University of South Wales (USW), UK, will be in the right place to do business with the main operators in the aviation arena. Dubai South is where key aerospace markets are going to be. As the city expands, strong relationships can be built so that other courses developed in South Wales can be made available to global organisations operating at Dubai South.

There has been significant support from Dubai Aviation City Corporation, the parent organisation of Dubai South, and Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, which are keen to offer specialised vocational education in order to develop a strong local supply of talent for the region’s fast-expanding aerospace industry and upskill the UAE workforce, supporting Dubai South’s position as an emerging global aviation hub, and the city’s position as a leader in the region for education related to aviation and innovation.

It was determined that value could be added by establishing a university presence to offer both academic programmes and industry standard training, in this case, the EASA Part B Cat-66 technical training, which is embedded in a degree programme.

What is available at the facility?

The purpose-built 3,000m2 facility has learning and teaching space over two storeys, including an European Aviation Safety Agency / General Civil Aviation Authority (EASA/GCAA) accredited workshop with an aircraft and CFM56-3 jet engine, mechanical principles laboratories, soundproofed maintenance areas, and a simulated industry standard hangar that is also EASA/GCAA accredited for the provision of aircraft maintenance engineering training.

Plus, dedicated laboratory spaces for electronic practical tasks and avionics systems and composite-based equipment to produce sample materials. On-site 3D printing and composite repair capabilities, as well as non-destructive testing (NDT) programmes, which will require bespoke equipment for liquid penetrant testing and more, are all catered for.

What courses are available and what materials will be studied?

The facility will initially offer Dubai Government (KHDA) approved programmes, including BSc (Hons) Aircraft Maintenance Engineering with integrated EASA/GCAA Simplify to Tech training, and a BSc (Hons) Aircraft Maintenance Engineering top-up degree and Foundation course, through which a student can gain the right qualifications to move onto the degree programme.

Materials science and relevant applications are taught in year one undergraduate courses, under the Civil Engineering Materials module. There is also an advanced level masters course in the Advanced Civil Engineering Materials module, where composite materials such as fibre-reinforced polymers and advanced composite cements are taught. In consultancy, the facility tests steel-polystyrene composite and composite concrete lintel systems, whereby steel can be combined with polystyrene for enhanced thermal properties. Materials science features prominently in all of the research at PhD level.

What composite-based research is being done and how will it be used?

Significant research in the area of composite materials is being conducted to understand the characteristics of the material and its application within the aviation sector. This research involves both the manufacture of new materials along with inspection and repair techniques.

The research conducted for the maintenance sector mainly focuses on emulating the effects of collision impact – bird strike for example – on composite panels. NDT capabilities allow students to analyse the damage caused and investigate rectification methods, ensuring the repaired material has the same or improved mechanical properties. This is becoming a significant focus of research within the aircraft industry as the frequency of impacts involving aircraft manufactured from composite materials is increasing.

In addition, the facility holds expertise in the field of structural composites for building and infrastructure, particularly in the retrofitting and strengthening of structural elements.

What is being done in aerospace by USW at home in Wales?

The aerospace subject area encompasses both aeronautical engineering and aircraft maintenance engineering.

The aeronautical subject area primarily focuses on the design of aircraft, whereas aircraft maintenance engineering is concerned with the lifecycle of the aircraft once in commercial operation.

Both areas use the resources housed in the Aviation Academy’s facilities that give the students the opportunity to gain experience in:

  • An industry standard composite facility for the manufacture and repair of composite panels. The composite area consists of clean and dirty rooms equipped with hot bonders and composite ovens
  • Sheet metal workshops, for aircraft structural repair using a multitude of industry-standard equipment, such as guillotines, rollers, sheet folder and a range pneumatic hand tools
  • Aircraft hangars, performing maintenance tasks on real aircraft, replicating tool control, task card systems and standard practices used in industry. Students are exposed to hydraulic systems on both the aircraft and through use of hydraulic training rigs
  • Avionic laboratories, developing the electrical and electronic skills required performing maintenance activities on aircraft. These skills will require the use of a range of test equipment, along with the use of high precision hand tools necessary for the repair and maintenance of electrical systems on the aircraft
  • Rapid prototyping laboratory, using a range of fused deposition modelling (FDM) and stereolithography (SLA) 3D printers.

How important is an international presence to USW?

USW has long held aspirations to develop an overseas presence. In doing so, we have been clear that we would only do so where there is a real, identified need for knowledge and expertise from government or commercial entities.

The launch of our Dubai campus was the culmination of a two-year project, which followed the signing of a Memorandum of Co-operation with Dubai Aviation City Corporation, the parent organisation of Dubai South, in May 2016.

And for R&D in Wales?

The Dubai presence is important because by the very nature of Dubai South itself we will be close to an unprecedented concentration of the aviation industry. Having worked with some of the major players in the industry, USW aims to partner with a wide range of local and international organisations that specialise in propulsion, airframe or avionics for mutual benefit. We want to fully understand their training needs and, in time, their R&D requirements so that they can be addressed in Dubai or, noting that aviation is a global industry, back at the UK campus.

With Brexit looming, are international links more important than ever?

The decision to develop a Dubai campus was taken prior to the Brexit vote, as we had already identified the importance of having an overseas presence. The reality is that since the Brexit vote, the attractiveness of UK study has declined across the sector and the university has not been excluded from this position. However, the Dubai campus now provides an alternative route to market for our knowledge and expertise, and the means to contribute to our long-term sustainability.