Design and composites capabilities take spotlight at spring conference

14 May 2024

Industrial members of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) attended its Spring Technical Fellows conference – which focused on two core capabilities, design and composites.  

The two-day event, split between the AMRC’s Factory 2050 and Knowledge Transfer Centre facilities, included technical presentations, an interactive AI in design workshop and ended with shop floor tours of the composites centre. 

Ben Morgan, research director for the AMRC, who gave the opening address at the event, said the Spring Technical Fellows conference was an exciting evolution of work that is happening. 

“Our primary product is knowledge, so having more of these events gives our members exposure to more of the good stuff we are doing and this is a really positive step forward,” Ben added. 

“This event in particular gave us the chance to do a deep dive into a couple of topics, which this time was design and composites. We have such a broad portfolio of capabilities, so this Spring Technical Fellows conference gave us a chance to focus on just two of our key areas.

“Our design group is going through a strategy refresh, so the event was an ideal opportunity for them to engage with our members and get their input, as these are the people who are really solving the challenges that are going to be transformative to their businesses.” 

Topics covered during the conference included:

  • AI in design

The interactive workshop was led by Prof Saeema Ahmed-Kristensen and Dr Ji Han from the University of Exeter and arranged for the event in partnership with the AMRC. It was funded by the Innovation Launchpad Network’s Researcher in Residence initiative, which helps to accelerate UK innovation and led by the University of Sheffield AMRC. 

The session with AMRC members was devised to help create a future data-driven framework for manufacturing, to understand the role of AI in design engineering and the requirements of AI tools in manufacturing – as well as creating a toolkit to encompass the data-driven framework and requirements for AI tools, tailored for the manufacturing sector, translating academic research to industry. 

Going forward, the collaboration between the University of Exeter and the AMRC will explore in further detail the role of AI and data in the design engineering process, focusing on the design of products. 

  • Machining of sustainable novel composites

Emma Warren, technical fellow, AMRC composites group, highlighted the importance of understanding what a composite material is before the machining process.  

Images of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ quality holes were presented for a range of composite materials, including epoxy matrix reinforced with carbon, glass and flax fibres, a self-healing matrix reinforced with carbon fibre and some thermoplastic matrices reinforced with carbon fibre. 

Photographs of holes were used to highlight the impact of different constituent materials on the defect types that are observed. The presentation prompted discussions surrounding the importance of quantifying the quality of machined holes using a range of defect types, rather than a standard one that is used for all composites.

  • EcoTool: Heated composite tooling technology 

Oliver Simpson, development engineer, AMRC composites group, spoke about an EcoTool and how it presents an alternative curing technology, achieved through modifications to industry-standard composite tooling, enabling direct resistive heating of carbon laminates. 

The process facilitates in-situ tool curing, removing asset dependant size limitations, positioning it as a solution for large-scale aerospace components. Thermal control was shown to be improved through heat zones to assist uniform curing of complex tooling laminates and component layups with varying thicknesses. 

The culmination of this project presented a 4m tapered wing skin demonstrator tool which was cured using direct resistive heating. A part was then cured on the tool using the same method. These results indicated a 98 per cent reduction in average power usage, compared to identical cures in the Autoclave. 

A demonstration of this tool was also presented during the tour of the composite centre. The positive results show development in alternative cure solutions which tackle the challenges around sustainable and low-cost manufacturing processes for carbon fibre composite components.

For many members, it was their first Technical Fellows conference - including Kentaro Hayashi, senior manager for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Europe. He said: “I have really enjoyed the Spring Technical Fellows conference. I am particularly interested in AI technology, so the AI in Design workshop was very exciting to me.” 

Craig Davey, chief operating officer for INSPHERE, said it was also his first AMRC conference, adding: “I have really enjoyed it and felt very looked after. I found the AI in Design workshop super interesting, so I would say that was my event highlight.” 

Julia Yeardley, partnership engagement manager for the AMRC, said the opportunity to introduce something new, the AI in design workshop, was well received by members, adding: “We do intend to continue to run two partner events a year, the Spring conference, followed by our flagship event in the autumn.” 

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