Manufacturing Technology Transporter (MANTRA) road show

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An engineering and manufacturing road show on wheels has begun touring the UK to bring the latest and future technologies to businesses and schools.

MANTRA (The Manufacturing Technology Transporter) is a specially modified HGV packed with the latest machinery and simulators. The 14 metre long truck will take to the road with a dedicated team to demonstrate the manufacturing and assembly line technology of the future and help to inspire young people to take up careers in engineering.

Established by the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC) and with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry sponsors, MANTRA aims to introduce companies to the latest production engineering technology and techniques helping them to innovate with new products, increase productivity and keep UK manufacturing competitive.

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[Representative welcomes his audience and then fades to interviewer]


How do you let industry know about the latest tools in manufacturing and how do you get more young people interested in careers in engineering?The answer is you get a great big truck. But it’s no ordinary truck this 14 metre long HGV is packed with the very latest technology. The aim is to show how manufacturing will look in the future and along the way the hope is that it will inspire a new generation of engineers. Professor Keith Ridgeway from the University of Sheffield is one of the people who set up the project.

Professor Keith Ridgeway (KR) – University of Sheffield

MANTRA is the manufacturing transporter and it recognises that small and medium enterprises just don’t want to take the time to go out to Universities to find the expertise and search the expertise that they need. So the Mantra manufacturing transporter aims to take that expertise out to industry and show them the type of things we are now doing in manufacturing to cut time reduce costs of manufacturing parts. It also recognises that engineering is not a desired career move for children/young people nowadays and its trying to show, by visiting schools show young people that engineering, manufacturing engineering in particular can be an exciting career.


Can you describe some of the things that can be seen in the truck itself?


What we are trying to demonstrate is the research that we carry out and the impact that research has on industry. So we have a combination using plasma screens down the side walls of corporate videos showing things like blade off test and water ingestion test for engines at Rolls Royce and how Boeing assemble aircraft. We show those videos with the videos of our own work on assemble on machining and test work. Also on the vehicle we’ve a machine tool that demonstrates some of the major process such as milling which is making flat surfaces and turning round surfaces in combination of one machine and we can show using advanced CAD-CAM how we can reduce times for machining, how we can tune the machine to reduce the cost of making the part.

Also we have a full virtual reality system and that’s the 3D stereo system that allows us to examine a model of an aero engine or a motorbike, change the design, bring off parts, bring them right out to the person that is looking at it, twist round the part, change the colour, put it back in and re-assemble the engine or bike - whatever we want to do.

[Milling machine sounds and then fades out]

We’re looking for people to take up careers in high level advanced manufacturing things like aerospace, where we are making critical strategic parts for major aircraft and major vehicles. Maybe marine industry, the medical industry – it’s that type of industry.


Can you explain how this project got off the ground?


The project got off the ground for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) who had a very, in a way, a very simple competition which was if we gave you half a million pounds how would you transfer the knowledge that you are generating to industry. And we said how we would do it would be to actually take it to industry. We’d not invite them to set up a centre and invite people to come and see us, we would put it on a big lorry, a 42 foot lorry, and take it out to see them and we put all our equipment, all our knowledge as demonstrators on that facility, and we obviously won the competition and one of the other things that we recognised is that there is a missing generation. There is a whole generation of people in places like Sheffield that don’t want to go into engineering, don’t want to go into manufacturing engineering. I think an interesting study showed that in schools a survey said that the most popular and well known engineer was Kevin Webster off of Coronation Street, and when we are in that situation I think we need to look at engineering and say how do we change that perception there is something different out there than mending cars in Coronation Street.


Atti Emecz is from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Why do you think this sort of project is so important?

Mr Atti Emecz – EPSRC

In terms of the general sort of concept it’s really important that UK organisations like myself can demonstrate the impact that research is having on peoples lives. Facilities like MANTRA can take that technology, can show that technology to people and can show that the basic research that’s really excellent in the UK universities can actually have a real impact on people lives in a specific sense. I would look at the economy today and I would say how reliant we have been on financial services and what we have here is a facility focused on high value manufacturing, focused on the sorts of products and services that I think will make a real difference in the economy as we go forward and will spawn new ideas, new innovations that will ensure that the UK is well-placed to come out of any recession. Research technology development these days is all done in collaboration and Keith’s got some great partners with Boeing and Rolls Royce and others. Keith and his team don’t do everything; they are part of a process. What you’ll see here in the facility is how that research is worked across that supply chain and I think the collaborations and the people are what really make it, although, of course, all the nice screens and the machines look impressive too.


The launch event took place at Dorcan Technology College in Swindon and with that it faced it’s first young audience. So what was their verdict on MANTRA?

Student 1

It’s really cool the technology they’re making these days and it’s good that they are making it out of like better stuff, but it is lighter than the weaker stuff, so it’s really good.

Student 2

In the middle I actually saw a lathe. They showed us on the screen how they did it and how they would do it in the future.

Student 3

The technology we are seeing today by the time we’re as old as them, the technology will be ten times better so it’s amazing to think that.

Student 4

We saw the 3D imaging. It was like good because you could use the control and see the parts and everything on it. We saw how a component was made on the machine.

Student 5

3D glasses with the screen is excellent. It looks really great, it’s just a case of putting some glasses on and you can control the whole thing just by a little control which I thought was absolutely amazing. Being able to actually get something and move it with your own hands virtually is amazing.

Student 6

We saw the components being made in the machine they’re building and I thought it was really interesting how they got loads of bits on one machine, like loads of different saw parts on one machine, and it’s going out in a matter of a morning, but if you did it by hand it would take years.

Student 7

Engineering is tackling climate change, it’s building economic cars. Most things today are engineered by someone or something.


Pupils from Dorcan Technology College in Swindon. And over the next three years the MANTRA project will visit more than 400 companies and 30 schools in the UK.