The Mercury Centre

The Mercury Centre (2)

Professor Iain Todd, Director of the Mercury Centre, has been appointed The University of Sheffield and GKN Aerospace Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) research chair in additive manufacturing.

Supported by GKN Aerospace, the University and the Royal Academy of Engineering, for the next five years Prof Todd will focus on harnessing and developing the extraordinary potential of additive manufacturing (AM) for aerospace and other high value industrial sectors.

The role will have three fundamental aims: to assist in the industrialization of the current state-of-the-art technology as GKN moves towards production; to develop the required technology to enable the integration of materials and processes, extending its application in the short term; to create entirely innovative processes and materials that will carry industry well beyond what is currently possible.

Russ Dunn, Senior Vice President Engineering & Technology, explains: “AM technologies promise a paradigm shift in engineering design and materials. We will be able to create previously impossible or totally uneconomical shapes, with little or no material wastage, and in the longer term we will be able to develop completely new materials and structures fully optimized for the role they perform.  This new chair will build on GKN’s existing developments in additive manufacturing and will sit at the heart of work to ensure UK industry continues to be a pioneering force in this global revolution in engineering.”

Professor Iain Todd says “I’m delighted and honored to be appointed to this prestigious role and look forward to working with GKN Aerospace and the Royal Academy of Engineering in promoting, researching and helping to drive this hugely exciting and disruptive manufacturing technology forwards. This is a very exciting time for advanced manufacturing and materials research in the UK. My role will be to strengthen the link between industry and academia in these fields and to transfer the engineering and scientific breakthroughs at the University level to industrial practice helping to drive productivity and competitiveness.

Professor Ric Parker CBE FREng, Chair of the Royal Academy of Engineering Research and Secondments Committee, says: “We are delighted to support this Chair as part of the University of Sheffield’s ongoing and productive collaboration with GKN. Additive manufacturing is an important area for research and development, which has enormous potential to improve industrial processes and UK productivity in the future.”

Professor Todd is recognized as a leading academic researcher in the fields of novel processing and alloys. He has led research into additive manufacturing at the University of Sheffield since its commencement in 2006 and has been a driving force in the growth of the world-leading manufacturing research facility, The Mercury Centre. The current University of Sheffield AM research portfolio includes work on the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) supported, £15M Horizon Programme, led by GKN Aerospace, as well as collaborative research with organizations such as the Culham Centre for Fusion Engineering and CERN.

The University, GKN Aerospace and the Royal Academy of Engineering will make a combined investment worth £1m to support the chair over the five years, with the GKN Aerospace investment including funding for an additional 10 PhD students to support Professor Todd and the team of over 20 senior research staff already operating at the university.

The University has an established relationship with GKN Aerospace, most recently through the Horizon AM programme. They also support PhD and EngD programmes and provide undergraduate student placements.

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A £10 million development centre, which aims to accelerate the deployment of a range of innovative near net shape powder-based manufacturing processes, has been created by the University of Sheffield's Department of Materials Science and Engineering, following dialogue with regional advanced manufacturing companies to understand their future needs.

The Mercury Centre is part financed by Europe, attracting over £5 million of investment from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as part of the support for the region's economic development through the Yorkshire and Humber ERDF Programme 2007-13. This European investment is enabling UK industry to secure a globally leading position by accessing faster time-to-market technologies across a range of sectors.

The Mercury Centre has acquired a series of equipment which will deliver cutting edge capabilities in a range of advanced manufacturing technologies such as 3D printing, functional coatings and surface treatment. These include:

• Additive layer manufacture of high value alloys based on an Arcam S12
• Functional 2.5D printing of electronics and biomaterials with Aerosol Jet Deposition
• Novel material processing via Spark Plasma Sintering for rapid development of new ceramics
• Metal Injection Moulding and sintering
• Electron beam processing for joining, surface treatment and building parts

These are supported by a range of state-of-the-art advanced materials characterisation techniques, and product/process design and simulation capabilities.

Near net shape manufacturing using these techniques allows components with complex geometries to be created directly from computer models offering benefits over traditional manufacturing processes including; rapid development times, fewer process steps, lower environmental impact and reduced cost, at the same time as providing improved product quality and increased design freedom.

Recent developments in the technologies now allow application across a wider range of industrial sectors and there is already significant interest from aerospace, motorsport, biomedical and electronics companies. These are now supported by the increasing availability of production-scale equipment and a range of bulk powder feed-stocks.

Like all new processing technologies, however, industrial deployment generally requires substantial development activity to identify the composition and processing conditions required for a new product or new application, and this is where the Mercury Centre comes in.

Dr Iain Todd, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Director of the Mercury Centre, said: "We are helping companies to adopt these technologies by offering them access to our research facilities and the opportunity to explore the business benefits. We can provide a phased approach, beginning with an initial investigation of business needs and exploratory tests, through to long term-product or process optimisation. We can also offer a "no risk" proof of concept engagement to obtain preliminary data which can then be used in the development of subsequent funding applications."

There are a range of options for working with the Mercury Centre, from short-term contracted consultancy, through to knowledge transfer partnerships (KTPs) and PhD studentships, or even large scale multi-partner projects. However, with all options the focus is very much on providing real benefits to the industrial partner. If you are interested in finding out how these technologies can help your company please contact the Centre Manager, Dr Martin I Highett on 0114 2225981.

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