Roundup: Advanced Engineering UK

Materials World magazine
1 Jan 2015

James Perkins and Simon Frost visited the recent Advanced Engineering UK exhibition, Birmingham. Here are some of the highlights. 

Good vibrations

One piece of testing equipment that caught the eye was the Advanced Structural Dynamics Evaluation Centre’s (ASDEC) new £2.2m laser Doppler vibrometry robot (left). As General Manager, Tim Stubbs, was keen to point out, it is the only tool of its type in the UK and one of only three in the world. The machine makes non-contact vibration measurements of structures from the sub-millimetre to car-size scale. The system also allows engineers to correlate real-life tests with virtual prototypes. This testing has a number of uses, including ensuring that automotive parts don’t vibrate and make noise when the vehicle is driven, or that a screw on a piece of machinery doesn’t rattle free. It was developed by a team at the University of Leicester, of which ASDEC is a commercial spinout, and is based at the MIRA site, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire. It was funded by grants from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund and the European Regional Development Fund.

Midlands leading manufacture

Peter Turnock, MD of Birmingham-based CMA Moldform Ltd, spoke passionately about the strength of manufacturing in the Midlands and the need to promote it further, at the Made in the Midlands panel discussion. ‘We need to encourage not only children, but teachers, too – they have to know that manufacturing has a future and is a great career,’ he said. ‘We don’t tell people enough that we’re good at manufacturing in this country. People need to know.’ Representing the aerospace industry, Jason Aldridge, MD of Coventry-based Arrowsmith Engineering, claimed that the Midlands ‘as an aerospace cluster is probably only second in the world to Toulouse. We have two top engineering universities in Coventry, and the best aerospace supply chain in the country – local airports now even fly directly to New York’.

Made in the Midlands, a non-governmental peer group for MDs and CEOs of manufacturing and engineering firms across the Midlands, was founded in 2002 to strengthen the area’s industrial network and promote careers to young people. The panel of Turnock, Aldridge and Christopher Greenough, Director of Salop Design and Engineering Ltd, agreed that, despite the region’s buoyant industrial climate, they struggle to recruit skilled staff for their respective companies. ‘Even with an apprenticeship, it takes four-to-five years before you have the skills in your company. Now we’re inviting schools into the factory so they can see first-hand what manufacturing and engineering offers,’ said Greenough.

Safety with nanoparticles

Rightly or wrongly, the asbestos crisis hangs like a shadow over the nanotech world, particularly in substances that come into close contact with humans. Dr Craig Poland, from the SAFENANO team at the Institute of Occupational Medicine, UK, said it was imperative that the composites industry maintained public trust as it moves towards using nanoparticles. Dr Poland uses the classic risk equation (risk = hazard x exposure) to quantify the danger. He said, ‘You need to understand the risk – if you don’t understand the risk you can’t quantify the hazard.’ In relation to working with nanomaterials, there is no set safe exposure level as yet, but that doesn’t mean people working in the industry shouldn’t be cautious. ‘There is currently no evidence of health effects, but we don’t want to get to the point where we see disease in humans.’

Functionalising graphene

‘Nanomaterials, they have been around for a long time, but have they changed the world yet? No.’ This was how Dr Martin Kemp, from Haydale, started his presentation. Given that graphene has a surface area of about 2,500m2 per gramme, he believes that surface chemistry is an important part of bringing nanomaterials to the fore. This is what Haydale has been working on, with some interesting results. The company has engineered graphene to have ‘any functional groups we want’. The functional groups on the graphene lattice allow the team to change the way the graphene reacts when inserted in different substances, such as its dispersion when added to resin.

EU membership vital to success

85% of manufacturers in the UK believe it is critical to industry that the UK remains in the EU, according to a recent study by The Manufacturers’ Organisation (EEF). Andrew Buckley, Membership and Marketing Director at EEF, said that a third of the companies surveyed overseas would be less likely to invest in an independent UK. ‘Before any referendum, the Government must make the economic case for continued EU membership clear,’ he warned.

Circuits on a roll

Cambridge-based company CIT Technology presented its patented conductive inkjet printing process at the event. In the two-step method, a circuit is printed onto a PET substrate with a catalytic ink, then it’s immersed in an electroless plating solution to deposit copper onto the catalyst by autocatalytic deposition. Applications include mounted LEDs and low-current sensors, and CIT claims that the additive method of building circuits creates a significantly smaller waste stream than traditional circuit fabrication.