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AMRC lead project to significantly cut aerospace R&D times

posted 20 Aug 2010, 01:06 by RiDO Rotherham   [ updated 24 Aug 2010, 02:06 ]
The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC) has played a key role in an international research project which could reduce the time required to design and produce a large aerospace component such as an engine casing from nine months to a few weeks.

The AMRC based at Rotherham’s Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) has led the three-year RAPOLAC (Rapid Production of Large Aerospace Components) project, involving eight academic and industrial partners from four countries. The group have worked to take a new manufacturing technique, shaped metal deposition (SMD), from an experimental proof of concept, to an automated manufacturing technology ready for commercial use by a range of companies in the aerospace industry.

SMD produces components by welding a continuous metal wire into the desired shape. This reduces the wastage involved in machining parts from a larger block, and removes the need for the expensive tooling used in forging. It also provides significant reductions in the design and production time of large aerospace components.

The SMD technology was initially developed by Rolls-Royce plc, but was not widely adopted for commercial production for several reasons. Rolls-Royce licenced the technology to the AMRC which through the RAPOLAC project would move SMD towards commercialisation.

Rosemary Gault, RAPOLAC project manager at the AMRC, says:

"SMD was a very promising technology when it came to us, but companies weren't interested because it was very labour intensive and we didn't understand the material properties. Thanks to the funding from the EU Framework Programme and the hard work of all our partners, it's now been fully modelled and automated. It's ready to go into wider production, and we're talking to a number of companies from aerospace and other sectors."

RAPOLAC consortium members are now seeing keen interest in the SMD technology from industry. They have already produced test parts for six different aerospace companies, and have also been approached by companies from other sectors including medical and motorsports.

Footprint Sheffield, the leading industrial partner in RAPOLAC, aims to adopt the technology in its own factory to help the company expand its markets and offer higher-value services.

Richard Jewitt, director of Footprint Sheffield, says:

"Footprint's involvement in the RAPOLAC project has been an essential part of developing our future strategy. To survive and prosper we must move up the technology ladder in what we manufacture and enhance the skills level of our staff. Being part of the RAPOLAC project has enabled us to assess a new manufacturing method, whilst our staff have worked closely with experienced and highly capable partners."

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