Micro Materials NanoTest Vantage Testing Suite with NTX4Controller

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment


The proposed bid will provide the UK with a world leading nanomechanical and nanotribological testing facility, with access available to all UK academic institutions and UK industry. The Micro Materials Vantage System represents a step-change in repositioning accuracy and testing speed than previous systems. It provides the ability to undertake 6 fundamentally different mechanical or tribological tests (Indentation, Scratch, Impact, Fatigue, Wear, Fretting), in a range of different environments, offering the ability to tailor tests to simulate service environments.

The ability to mechanically and tribologically test at the nano-scale is vitally important for a number of different scientific disciplines.
In Tribology, the behaviour of macro-scale contacts such as the bearing surface contact of a hip joint, is governed by the interfacial interactions at the nano-scale. Assessment of the nanomechanical and nanotribological behaviour of the surfaces, and the investigation of the surface layers or tribofilms formed during contact motion, is vital to the fundamental understanding of the contacts behaviour, and it provides crucial information for predictive modelling.

In manufacturing and materials science, new manufacturing and processing techniques such as laser processing and electrical discharge machining, produce microstructures, thin surface layers and textures on material surfaces which are of the order of microns in size. This means conventional hardness, wear and impact testing methods are simply not sufficient to assess them. This microstructure and texture formation can enhance and detract from the performance of the component in service; therefore the ability to test relevant properties at the appropriate scale is vital.

Coatings science is a field which spans a multitude of disciplines ranging from ship antifouling paint films through to hard coatings for the turbine blades of jet engines. While these coatings can vary in thickness, hard coatings for wear, impact and erosion resistance can be typically 1-50 microns thick with properties tailored to fit their purpose. The low thicknesses of the coatings mean their adhesion to the substrate and mechanical properties which are vital to the prediction of their performance can only be accessed through nano-scale testing.

Many natural materials such as bone and cartilage have complex hierarchical structures which extending down to the nano-scale. Changes occurring at the nano and micro-scale govern the macro-scale properties and performance and the ability to assess these levels provides valuable insights into the origins of conditions such as Osteoarthritis and Osteoporosis.

Planned Impact

This system will impact on a number of important areas including Society, Knowledge, the Economy and People.

Knowledge: The Vantage system already represents a step-change in nanomechanical and nanotribological testing. The unique range of tests, the environments under which they can be performed, the positioning, load and displacement accuracy, all mean that this system will open novel areas of research, whilst remaining at the forefront of the testing world for the foreseeable future. The historical links between Micro Materials Ltd. and nCATS provides a platform for new technique development, as will the new interactions between Micro Materials Ltd. and innovative researchers from the user group. The system will help to forge new collaborations and skill sharing between The University of Southampton, The University of Sheffield, The University of Nottingham and The University of Portsmouth.

People: The EPSRC Review of Mechanical Engineering 2011 noted: 'Serious concerns about the difficulty that exists in recruiting and retaining UK trained doctoral students'. Access to cutting edge equipment and infrastructure has a huge impact on an institutions ability to attract and retain top quality researchers. While this equipment would directly benefit four UK universities, it will allow access to other new users, supporting UK science as a whole. The system would be based at the University of Southampton within the national Centre for Advanced Tribology at Southampton (nCATS). The centre was established as a response to the recognition that despite Tribology's importance to the UK economy and to UK industry, it was a declining discipline. Globally it is recognised that 1-3% of GDP loss is attributable to friction and wear, which in the UK represents ~£65 Billion. The Vantage system would further reinvigorate an important field of research and assist with the attraction of new people to the field.

Economic and Societal Impact: MML are a UK company producing a world leading piece of equipment. The purchase of the Vantage system would represent a significant investment and boost to a UK company. The equipment's positioning at Southampton and usage by other UK Universities and industry will generate high quality research outputs. These outputs will be seen globally, helping to boost the profile of the user's research but strengthen MML's position as a provider of world leading equipment. The advances in the speed of testing offered by this system means that series of tests can be performed in a fraction of that time previously required, enhancing the overall output of the system but also allowing for a major cost saving for users as they will be required to pay for less time on the system.

Outreach to new users: Time will be allocated for use of the system by individuals outside of the main users identified in this proposal. All the user groups have extensive links with industry and collaborations with other universities. nCATS alone has 30 industrial partners and a total of ~100 companies with whom it directly interacts. These companies would be made directly aware of the new system and its capabilities. nCATS has an active outreach programme to the UK academic and industrial community in place and frequently hosts events such as EWTEC 2011, (European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference, 5-9 September 2011) and the Materials KTN and nCATS 'Functional Coatings - A Workshop on Coatings beyond REACh' (February 22nd 2012 - about 80 participants from 50 companies). Future events would showcase and advertise the systems capabilities, attracting new users to the system. In addition nCATS has a strong history of outreach outside of industry and academia, evidenced recently by the UK Tribology Network (UKTN) event held at Southampton (05/03/2012), where the public were invited to introductory talks about Tribology by Professor Robert Wood (Director of nCATS and chair of the UK Tribology Network).


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Bahrami A (2019) Mechanical properties and microstructural stability of CuTa/Cu composite coatings in Surface and Coatings Technology

Description This project covered the management costs of strategic funding by EPSRC. The funded device allows analysis of mechanical properties at nanonoscale, such as hardness and elastic modulus, in different conditions (temperature, impact, etc).
So far we published over30 papers using the equipment and established new research lines in material science and biomechanics. The equipment was essential to win significant grant portfolio, such as H2020 FET Open project, H2020 MSCA project (we are coordinators), EPSRC Prosperous NaTion project, two Newton Advanced Fellowships and many more.
Exploitation Route We explore the full potential of the device and prepare a new method on how to evaluate nanomechanical data. Our processes are shared through scientific publications.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology

Description We have a number of consultancy work using the device from leading aerospace companies and the health sector. Total income was over 100k.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description (MDOT) - Medical Device Obligations Taskforce
Amount € 8,944,243 (EUR)
Funding ID 814654 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2019 
End 12/2023
Description HardAlt: New generation of protective coatings alternative to hard chrome
Amount € 395,000 (EUR)
Funding ID 606110 
Organisation European Commission 
Department Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 12/2013 
End 11/2016
Description Renaissance of alloys: nanocrystalline bimetals
Amount £223,099 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R041768/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 03/2020
Description Solution
Amount € 3,504,101 (EUR)
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 02/2017 
End 01/2021
Description Solid lubricant coatings 
Organisation Czech Technical University in Prague
Country Czech Republic 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We provide nanoscale analysis of solid lubricant coatings produces in Prague or Coimbra (part of EU project we coordinate).
Collaborator Contribution Our partners fabricate coatings tested in Southampton.
Impact Several papers (attached).
Start Year 2013
Description Solid lubricant coatings 
Organisation University of Coimbra
Country Portugal 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We provide nanoscale analysis of solid lubricant coatings produces in Prague or Coimbra (part of EU project we coordinate).
Collaborator Contribution Our partners fabricate coatings tested in Southampton.
Impact Several papers (attached).
Start Year 2013