EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Composites Science, Engineering and Manufacturing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Aerospace Engineering

Abstract

We will launch a new CDT, focused on composite materials and manufacturing, to deliver the next generation of composites research and technology leaders equipped with the skills to make an impact on society. In recent times, composites have been replacing traditional materials, e.g. metals, at an unprecedented rate. Global growth in their use is expected to be rapid (5-10% annually). This growth is being driven by the need to lightweight structures for which 'lighter is better', e.g. aircraft, automotive car bodywork and wind blades; and by the benefits that composites offer to functionalise both materials and structures. The drivers for lightweighting are mainly material cost, fuel efficiency, reducing emissions contributing to climate change, but also for more purely engineering reasons such as improved operational performance and functionality. For example, the UK composites sector has contributed significantly to the Airbus A400M and A350 airframes, which exhibit markedly better performance over their metallic counterparts. Similarly, in the wind energy field, typically, over 90% of a wind turbine blade comprises composites. However, given the trend towards larger rotors, weight and stiffness have become limiting factors, necessitating a greater use of carbon fibre. Advanced composites, and the possibility that they offer to add extra functionality such as shape adaptation, are enablers for lighter, smarter blades, and cheaper more abundant energy. In the automotive sector, given the push for greener cars, the need for high speed, production line-scale, manufacturing approaches will necessitate more understanding of how different materials perform.

Given these developments, the UK has invested heavily in supporting the science and technology of composite materials, for instance, through the establishment of the National Composites Centre at the University of Bristol. Further investments are now required to support the skills element of the UK provision towards the composites industry and the challenges it presents. Currently, there is a recognised skills shortage in the UK's technical workforce for composites; the shortage being particularly acute for doctoral skills (30-150/year are needed). New developments within industry, such as robotic manufacture, additive manufacture, sustainability and recycling, and digital manufacturing require training that encompasses engineering as well as the physical sciences. Our CDT will supply a highly skilled workforce and technical leadership to support the industry; specifically, the leadership to bring forth new radical thinking and the innovative mind-set required to future-proof the UK's global competitiveness. The development of future composites, competing with the present resins, fibres and functional properties, as well as alternative materials, will require doctoral students to acquire underpinning knowledge of advanced materials science and engineering, and practical experience of the ensuing composites and structures. These highly skilled doctoral students will not only need to understand technical subjects but should also be able to place acquired knowledge within the context of the modern world.

Our CDT will deliver this training, providing core engineering competencies, including the experimental and theoretical elements of composites engineering and science. Core engineering modules will seek to develop the students' understanding of the performance of composite materials, and how that performance might be improved. Alongside core materials, manufacturing and computational analysis training, the CDT will deliver a transferable skills training programme, e.g. communication, leadership, and translational research skills. Collaborating with industrial partners (e.g. Rolls Royce) and world-leading international expertise (e.g. University of Limerick), we will produce an exciting integrated programme enabling our students to become future leaders.

Planned Impact

There are seven principal groups of beneficiaries for our new EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Composites Science, Engineering, and Manufacturing.

1. Collaborating companies and organisations, who will gain privileged access to the unique concentration of research training and skills available within the CDT, through active participation in doctoral research projects. In the Centre we will explore innovative ideas, in conjunction with industrial partners, international partners, and other associated groups (CLF, Catapults). Showcase events, such as our annual conference, will offer opportunities to a much broader spectrum of potentially collaborating companies and other organisations. The supporting companies will benefit from cross-sector learning opportunities and

- specific innovations within their sponsored project that make a significant impact on the company;
- increased collaboration with academia;
- the development of blue-skies and long-term research at a lowered risk.

2. Early-stage investors, who will gain access to commercial opportunities that have been validated through proof-of-concept, through our NCC-led technology pull-through programme.

3. Academics within Bristol, across a diverse range of disciplines, and at other universities associated with Bristol through the Manufacturing Hub, will benefit from collaborative research and exploitation opportunities in our CDT. International visits made possible by the Centre will undoubtedly lead to a wider spectrum of research training and exploitation collaborations.

4. Research students will establish their reputations as part of the CDT. Training and experiences within the Centre will increase their awareness of wider and contextually important issues, such as IP identification, commercialisation opportunities, and engagement with the public.

5. Students at the partner universities (SFI - Limerick) and other institutions, who will benefit from the collaborative training environment through the technologically relevant feedback from commercial stakeholder organisations.

6. The University of Bristol will enhance their international profile in composites. In addition to the immediate gains such as high quality academic publications and conference presentations during the course of the Centre, the University gains from the collaboration with industry that will continue long after the participants graduate. This is shown by the

a) Follow-on research activities in related areas.
b) Willingness of past graduates to:

i) Act as advocates for the CDT through our alumni association;
ii) Participate in the Advisory Board of our proposed CDT;
iii) Act as mentors to current doctoral students.

7. Citizens of the UK. We have identified key fields in composites science, engineering and manufacturing technology which are of current strategic importance to the country and will demonstrate the route by which these fields will impact our lives. Our current CDTs have shown considerable impact on industry (e.g. Rolls Royce). Our proposed centre will continue to give this benefit. We have built activities into the CDT programme to develop wider competences of the students in:

a) Communication - presentations, videos, journal paper, workshops;
b) Exploitation - business plans and exploitation routes for research;
c) Public Understanding - science ambassador, schools events, website.

Organisations

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