Issue date: 31 March 2003

ISSUE DATE: 31/03/03

Engineers at UWE are literally at the ‘cutting edge’ of aerospace manufacturing technology with the opening of a new £1m lab.

The Aerospace Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) at UWE has, for a number of years, been researching new manufacturing techniques for the aerospace industry. Much of this work has focused on a complex and sophisticated technique called superplastic forming and diffusion bonding. The technique is used to form precise multi-sheet, complex, lightweight structures in titanium, a material widely used by aerospace companies but difficult to process and machine. The multidisciplinary team at AMRC has been working on the use of lasers and advanced ceramic tools to produce a novel, low cost, manufacturing cell that will allow a much greater use of titanium in industry.

Building upon its research in this area, AMRC has secured around £1m funding for a Revolutionary Aerospace Machining Laboratory (RAMP) which will be at the forefront of developing the next generation of machining technology for the aerospace industry.

The new facility will have a wide range of research projects in aircraft manufacturing. The research will concentrate on the machining process of alloys, initially aluminium – used to make major airframe structures and components. It will involve the development of the world’s fastest machine tool spindle providing revolutionary cutting speeds as well as developing innovative new cutters to enhance the process. The best machine tools currently operate at a rate of around 25-30,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) but researchers are working with experts at Cranfield University to produce a spindle that will initially run at 60,000 rpm, but will be increased to 100,000 rpm – taking cutting close to the speed of sound, a process called Ultra High Speed Machining (UHSM).

At these advanced speeds, the temperatures during cutting can be close to the melting point of the material being machined. So the research will also look at developing new cutters with protective coatings instead of the use of lubricants which currently cool the tool and working zone. The resultant ‘dry machining’ technique will also have major environmental benefits as the material currently removed in the cutting process is contaminated by lubricant and therefore has only limited industrial use. Coated tools would allow a much greater proportion of the waste material from the cutting process to be reused – benefiting both the manufacturer and the environment. In fact, some countries are already moving towards banning the use of oil-based coolants in the cutting process.

Dr John Lanham, Project Manager, says the RAMP facility is an exciting development for the University and the industry, “This facility will be one of the most advanced in the world for studying the aerospace manufacturing processes. Because our research will produce representative structures and components it will be directly relevant to industry. Our processes will also be more precise as well as being faster and will, therefore, produce more accurate and thinner structures. Eventually the technology may save weight in the construction of aircraft – a very important consideration for the industry.”

Dr Lanham adds “Whilst RAMP is a machining project, it is not just about machining. To deliver a usable and effective solution for industry, we will need to develop an integrated range of solutions. We are putting in place projects with a range of collaborators including the end users, cutter manufacturers and machine tool suppliers to ensure all facets of the technology mature in an integrated, coherent manner. This is the approach AMRC has used very successfully on past projects and enables us to push the research boundaries and provide industry with an advanced production technology, that is cost effective, robust and reliable.”


Editors notes

1. RAMP will be officially opened on Wednesday 2 April by David Marshall, Director General of the Society of British Aerospace Companies.
2. AMRC is based in the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Computing at UWE. It has a multi-disciplinary team which includes academics from disciplines within Computing and Engineering. More details about engineering projects at UWE can be seen at: http://www.uwe.ac.uk/cems/research/amrc.shtml
3. UWE’s collaborators on this project are: Airbus UK; Starrag Heckert UK ; Stellram UK Ltd, Cranfield University, the University of Bristol
4. RAMP is being funded with money from the Science Research Investment Fund (SRIF), South West Regional Development Agency, UWE and Airbus UK

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