EDT MATTER - Manufacturing Advances Through Training Engineering Researchers

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: School of Engineering

Abstract

Underinvestment in Manufacturing in the UK over the past decade has left this vital pillar of the economy exposed. OECD statistics show this starkly when comparing the UK to competitors whose sectors have grown since the start of the new millennium - the UK has- The largest proportion of low technology companies - The lowest proportion of employees in manufacturing- The lowest R & D spend as a function of GDP- The highest wage costs when compared to productivity.The recent economic crisis has highlighted the UK's over dependence on the financial services sector. Countries such as France and Germany with larger and growing manufacturing bases both emerged from the global recession more rapidly than the UK. This gap in support for the manufacturing sector has been recognised by EPSRC who made provisions to stimulate new IMRCs and doctorate training centres which can support UK manufacturing through close collaboration with the science base at universities.MATTER is a new initiative at Swansea specifically targeted at high technology advanced manufacturing and exploits the considerable experience of running industry facing doctorate centres at Swansea University. MATTER will be run in the multidisciplinary research environment provided in the School of Engineering at Swansea spanning all three research centres - computational, materials and nanotechnology. It will be led by a team of highly experienced researchers representing a wide range of expertise across the centres. Swansea has been a pioneer of the EngD concept since its inception in 1992. The award winning research and training partnerships continue with two highly focused doctoral training partnerships for the steel industry in Wales and for structural metallic systems for gas turbines. Swansea is also the lead organisation on the ERDF funded project ASTUTE to support Advanced Sustainable Manufacturing Technologies in Wales with postdoctoral research and extensive knowledge transfer activities from academia to industry. Manufacturing also strongly features in the HEFCW funded project to establish ArROW, an Aerospace Research Organisation Wales, which is led by Swansea University. The latter is to build research capacity, but it lacks funds for the critical element of doctoral students to more extensively engage with industry.In analysing technical roadmapping documents from the packaging and the aerospace industries, and the portfolio of support offered to manufacturing industries, Swansea University has identified key gaps and opportunities to work with the supply chains in Packaging, Automotive and Aerospace specifically outside of the EU convergence areas covered by existing funding. Within these technology clusters are key cross cutting themes, lean principles, sustainability, and value added. The gap in support will be filled through the generation of an advanced manufacturing centre that will train a minimum of 26 engineering doctorate research engineers, adding value to the training schemes already in place to service the Welsh convergence regions. MATTER will concentrate on increasing the intellectual value of the products and processes in order to add value through innovation, decreasing the commodity element of much of the UK sector. A key area of focus for MATTER will be improving processes to minimise waste and to improve quality.The existing infrastructure at Swansea University will underpin MATTER maximising the number of students that can be trained. Swansea will contribute 56% of the fees along with the provision of training costs and administration support from within their extensive infrastructure build up around several large scale projects, such as STRIP, ASTUTE and ArROW. Industry will also make a considerable additional contribution both in terms of in kind support and cash. The combined contribution from industry and Swansea University to MATTER will provide approximately 2 for every 1 requested from EPSRC.

Planned Impact

A diverse set of positive benefits will arise from the proposed centre and these will be seen both in terms of academic impacts and economic and societal impacts. Academic impacts will be seen in several key areas. The first is in the training of a number of highly skilled researchers who will graduate with Engineering Doctorates. Secondly, the knowledge economy of the UK will benefit from the technological expertise that will be transferred into manufacturing companies, both while the EngD candidates are carrying out their industrial projects and also when these graduates are subsequently employed in industry. Thirdly, Swansea University will also benefit by developing a cross-disciplinary approach to advanced manufacturing that links three areas - materials engineering, computational engineering and printing & coating technology. Synergistic benefits from this collaboration will leave a lasting legacy beyond the funding period, leading to a worldwide academic advancement in manufacture. Finally, the health of the Manufacture Engineering academic discipline, where there is an urgent need to increase the supply of highly qualified professionals, will considerably benefit from the proposed centre. As part of the EngD, researchers will disseminate the results of their work in seminars within the collaboration companies, within the University and also at national and international conferences reaching a wide industrial and academic audience. Economic and Societal Impacts will be seen in terms of environmental benefits, health improvements, increasing R&D, commercialisation and exploitation, and ultimately enhanced economic prosperity. Environmental benefits arise where overall quantities of packaging can be reduced, packaging can be made more biodegradeable, and it becomes easier for consumers to identify and separate recyclable packaging. All of these contribute to a reduction of waste entering landfill, where the UK is under severe pressure. Further benefits can be seen in the reduced material and energy usage when manufacturing packaging. Benefits in terms of greater fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions will arise in the automotive and the aerospace sector where EngD projects focus on weight saving technologies. Health and well-being related benefits can arise from more sophisticated packaging that is easier to use by elderly people and people with disabilities. Commercial benefits will arise from setting up an international centre of excellence in packaging, automotive and aerospace technologies. This will encourage companies to invest in R&D for the manufacture of packaging materials, and for auto and aero components as needed for the next generation of low carbon vehicles and aeroplanes. If the UK takes a lead on developing enhanced packaging for waste reduction then the results can be exploited in terms of exports and patent licensing to other countries, where the drivers for these problems will soon start to gather pace. In addition, local authorities will be able to make financial savings on waste disposal if the quantities of packaging going into landfill can be reduced. Many economic benefits, such as increased export income, will also arise in the automotive and aerospace sectors.

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