EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Quantitative NDE

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Mechanical Engineering

Abstract

We propose an Industrial Doctorate Centre (IDC) in Quantitative Non-Destructive Evaluation (NDE) as an evolution from the existing successful IDC in NDE, operated through a Strategic Partnership between EPSRC and major end-user companies. The IDC is designed to meet a strong and rising industrial need for adventurous research and highly skilled engineers in a technology area underpinning some of the most important industrial growth areas in the UK economy.

The proposal is for a multi-university centre led by Imperial College and including the Universities of Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham, Strathclyde and Warwick, with focus on a new research challenge and expanded industrial engagement. The existing IDC has funding for cohort intakes up to October 2014 so that in line with EPSRC guidance the proposal is for 4 cohorts of 11 student research engineers (REs) with intakes between October 2015 & October 2018.

Advanced NDE technology is critical for new engineering challenges across a wide range of market sectors. Thus it is specifically identified within the Structural Integrity & Materials Behaviour priority area of Engineering but is also directly relevant to other priority areas within the Engineering, Manufacturing the Future, Energy & Physical Sciences themes. The need for more high level NDE engineers is increasing in many of these sectors, partly in order to increase skill levels to address new, high technology capabilities generated through successful research, and partly to deal with the ongoing issue of an ageing workforce in this field.

The new IDC will be based on increased industrial support: EPSRC funding is sought for 7 REs per cohort; industry and universities will fund at least 4 REs per cohort as well as centre management and outreach activities. Requested EPSRC support is reduced to 30% after allowing for significant leverage of industrial and university cash contributions and industrial in-kind support.

The IDC will be closely linked with the world-leading UK Research Centre in NDE (RCNDE) facilitating strong engagement with a wide range of industrial user and supplier partners to maximise the impact of the research, and provide a cohesive cohort experience for the REs. IDC research will be driven by the priorities identified by the RCNDE industrial partners' vision and will move to a new focus on quantitative NDE, imaging, inspection reliability, and permanent monitoring technologies to convert inspection data into decision-making information. This also requires a new approach by combining both PhDs & EngDs to cover the full Technology Readiness Level range and hence facilitate an effective technology pipeline for translation & exploitation.

Our aim is to provide a first-class cohort-based student experience with a broad sector-based training programme utilising world-class teams in leading universities. This will couple training in innovative research with a more formal programme of courses and events to deepen as well as broaden the REs' knowledge and understanding of NDE and related disciplines. The existing IDC has evolved a very successful approach for cohort building across multi-university partners with shared training, events and activities - and nurturing the vital experience of belonging to a thriving research group and to a large national research centre.

The academic partners together provide a critical mass of world-class academic supervisors spanning the range of multi-disciplinary NDE technologies required by the industrial partners, and also to provide a comprehensive NDE training programme. The Centre will be operated through a Management Board aligned with the RCNDE board, with an industrial Chair, industrial sponsors and academic members, and at least one student representative. The management team based at Imperial will work closely with the academic leads at the other universities to deliver an excellent student experience, high industrial impact & value for money.

Planned Impact

NDE is an important and growing sector, engaging product suppliers and service companies which deliver high impact in terms of safety, asset value maximization and competitive benefit to client industries. NDE is thus an essential enabling technology for end-users across a wide range of sectors, and NDE research is needed to facilitate new engineering designs and materials for both high value manufacturing, as well as for asset management and life extension of existing infrastructure.

Immediate impact will be with the industrial partners where research engineers (REs) will be placed and where many will be ultimately employed. These include the majority of the UK power, oil & gas, nuclear, defence, aerospace and transportation industries. They will benefit through more efficient and safer operation, fewer interruptions to production, reduced wastage, less outage time, and the ability to support new engineering developments. The IDC will build on emerging links with the TSB Catapult centres and with EPSRC manufacturing research centres to maximise the impact of NDE research in these areas. The new IDC will see more RE placements with supply chain companies who will benefit from the growth opportunities afforded by advanced NDE instrumentation and services. The recruitment of high achieving engineers will contribute to rejuvenation of an ageing workforce as well as the need to introduce new engineering skills and capability.

At a national level, improved NDE capability not only underpins key growth areas such as high value manufacturing and energy, but is also crucial to public safety. Ultimately the whole UK economy will benefit through greater efficiency and less down-time, and UK society through increased safety and reduced environmental risk.

Many of the beneficiaries are existing collaborators, who have been engaged regularly through the UK Research Centre in NDE (RCNDE), an industry-university collaboration, whose hub is at Imperial College. 16 major end-user members of RCNDE are represented by NDEvR, the Industrial Partner in a Strategic Partnership with EPSRC. Through NDEvR, RCNDE now has 30 Associate members from the supply chain (many of them SMEs) to stimulate technology transfer. NDEvR has developed a 5,10 & 20 year vision for research needs across a range of market sectors and the IDC programme will be directed at these priorities.

The biggest impact challenge to NDE is addressing the technology transfer gap between research and industrial application, hence the focus here on placing the majority of REs in projects that include technology translation, addressing goals in the 5 and 10 year NDE vision. There is significant longer term impact (matching the NDE 10 and 20 year vision) to be derived from new laboratory research involving quantitative methods as discussed in the case for support, and these too will be addressed by REs.

Impact will be maximised by focused communication and engagement activities between academic partners and industry. These will include 3 plenary meetings and research review annually, typically 3 technology readiness workshops, university visits by industrialists and industrial visits by academics and REs. REs will progressively become part of this engagement process during their training.

The partner universities are already engaged with intermediary organisations such as trainers, and these links will be expanded. Thus individual members play leading roles in professional institutions including the British Institute of NDT, vital for effective dissemination because the majority of the exploiters of NDE research are members.

REs will engage in outreach programmes to raise the profile of engineering in schools and promote the public understanding of NDE, for example through exhibits at science festivals, secondment and publications in the wider media.

Publications

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