Collaboration helping to make the AMRC ‘special and unique’

08 November 2023

This year’s annual AMRC Technical Fellows conference was the biggest yet after more than 100 attendees from across the industrial partnership and AMRC joined together to hear about and celebrate research work completed over the past year.

Factory 2050, the AMRC’s flagship facility, was the backdrop for this year’s conference and provided  its industrial partners with the opportunity to explore and understand what has been learned throughout partnership projects and to use this information to give feedback to their own organisations. 

The Technical Fellows conference has been a key mechanism for the AMRC to disseminate its research projects for almost 20 years and as the organisation moves into a future where digital, net zero and our sustainability becomes more vital to help maintain a thriving UK manufacturing sector – it is hoped this event carries on and that the AMRC partnership continues to thrive.  

More than 20 technical presentations were highlighted across the two-day event, showcasing the breadth of the AMRC’s core capabilities and key themes, including collaborative work touching on sustainability, future propulsion, digitalisation and supply chain resilience. 

Julia Yeardley, partnership engagement manager for the AMRC, said she was over the moon about this year's event, adding: “All of the partners that joined us across the two days made this the biggest Tech Fellows yet. 

“When I talk about the AMRC, I am not just talking about the buildings and the brilliant staff that work here, but I am talking about the partnership as well. The partnership is what makes the AMRC special and unique. Their input is what sets us apart and what makes this a stellar community.”

Julia said that the reason behind the organisation of the Technical Fellows conference each year is to help bring additional value to the AMRC partners that get behind and support the organisation.

“I hope that everyone has taken something away from these two days,” she said. “I wanted everyone who attended to feel inspired and to have some amazing and aspirational conversations about what we can all do together.

“I honestly believe the talent, knowledge, skill, insights and calibre of people in the room is what makes this community special and  if we really put our minds to something, there is nothing we cannot do together.”

Topics covered during the conference included: 

  • Sensor-based digital verification for one way assembly

Technical lead Erica Smith presented the one-way assembly sensor based digital verification - technology accelerator (OWAST) project, which was undertaken as part of the AMRC One-Way Assembly (OWA) Grand Challenge programme. It was funded by the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and supported by a number of industrial Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and partners. 

Her presentation covered key outputs of the project, which related to the development of a standardised testing method for evaluation of large-scale production processes, and sensor-based verification for whole quality.

  • The Bird Blade: A novel means of providing birdstrike protection to an electricity ice protected wing leading edge

Tim Swait, technical fellow, spoke about the novel concept of a composite wing fixed leading edge and was designed using a heavily modified sandwich structure to give lower weight and better survivability to birdstrike. 

He explained how the outer skin is very thin following the airflow surface and also enhanced electrothermal ice protection efficiency. However, the inner skin was thicker and followed a much sharper profile. 

The two skins were then separated by a foam core, as is common for composite sandwich panels – but this foam core was sculpted to accommodate the differing profiles of inner and outer skin. 

In a birdstrike situation, the foam core is crushed and the outer skin is pressed onto the inner skin, exposing the sharp profile, resulting in the energy of the impact being deflected rather than absorbed. 

Extensive dynamic Finite Element Analyses were conducted of birdstrike on this concept versus a conventional metallic baseline. These analyses demonstrated the structure to behave as intended, with 90 per cent of the impact energy being deflected from the structure, compared to the baseline case (which absorbed over half of the energy) at 20 per cent less mass and with a reduction of 80 per cent in the reaction loads imparted to the main wing structure.

  • Data security for robotics with dynamic processes

Grace Lim, technical lead, discussed the cyber security for robotics in the operational technology (OT) space and how it is focused on fixed processes where parts arrive at a fixed position and the robot operations do not change. 

The robotic system carries out the tasks with a predetermined offset. Malicious activities can then be detected if robot behaviour exceeds the offset. In industries where parts do not arrive at fixed positions, a 6-axis robot arm will need to adapt to the orientation and part location as communicated to the robot by a vision system. 

The variety of parts position adds a level of complexity for cyber security as a baseline pattern cannot be formed easily. Hence, detection of abnormal behaviour through offsets will not suffice. This work demonstrates a system for detecting abnormal behaviour in dynamic robotic processes by simulating the robot programme in real time and comparing the robot position with the simulated position.

Matt Farnsworth, commercial director for the AMRC, said in a speech to the audience at the conference: “I think the Technical Fellows Conference really shows critically, the great diversity of projects that we’ve got across the AMRC. I want to reaffirm the power, diversity and engagement we have through our industrial membership and our ability to build-up these relationships.

“The plea from our partners is that they desire more opportunities to engage with other members in the collaborative research space. This event is that space and the ideal time to be doing it, prompted by the presentations seen and the questions asked to the panels.

“We do our best to facilitate these conversations but we want to do more. The power for us to do this and to make a real difference was in this room and I hope it continues beyond this event.”

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