Professor Iain Todd - EPSRC Manufacturing Hub Interviews

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Interview with Professor Iain Todd - Director, Future Manufacturing Hub in Manufacture using Advanced Powders and Processes (MAPP).

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Professor Iain Todd – Director, Future Manufacturing Hub in Manufacture using Advanced Powders and Processes (MAPP)

We work in particulate materials turning powders into new and interesting components for use in sectors that vary from aerospace, to automotive, to biomedical.  We are interested in getting new product shapes, new functions and new behaviours out of materials.

There has been a tendency inside of the sector to consolidate different companies, so in the industrial sector there has been a lot of acquisitions, certainly in the additive manufacturing sector in the US, a lot of acquisitions of companies around the world and consolidation to grow companies that are now based around additive manufacturing, advanced powder processes, as core parts of the industrial ecosystem. 

All of these changes in the sector are driven by the need to be a lot more protective of the resources that we have to hand.  The materials that we are turning into advanced engineering components are extremely expensive.  They are difficult to make, they are difficult to manufacture and they are difficult to machine, so we are trying to get to the point where we can make things net shape, but if we throw most of this net shape material away or most of our advanced materials away, that’s also enormously wasteful, so the key drivers for the sector are to make these very high specification components, but also to utilize all the material that they possibly can.

The titanium that we use to make a lot of aerospace components for use in aero engines or airframes is actually quite an expensive material in its own right and it is quite difficult to work.  One of the drivers that the industry’s got is that they would like to be able to make net shape components on demand and get the performance that they want out directly from manufacture, so there is a lot of applications in aero engines and you have been seeing this particularly from companies like Rolls-Royce who have been focusing on large scale aero structures, GKN Aerospace looking at building wing spars and wing sections, and also from over the Atlantic, GE looking at manufacturer of components, for the hot end of their aero engines as well.

The additive manufacturing technology which is part of the activity map is also referred to as 3D printing and whilst we are quite familiar with 3D printing and plastics, or polymers if you want to use the technical term, we are not so familiar, I don’t think at the moment, with 3D printing or additive manufacturer of metallic components or ceramic components and that’s where we are getting into the focus on making these parts right first time, with the right properties, to allow us to take them directly into service.

In the next year I think we are going to see a lot more focus on the monitoring control of the processes that we have at our disposal now.  People are going to want to be able to control them much more accurately to make sure that we get very much all of the material going into all of the parts, and all the parts coming our perfect every time.  So a high and lofty goal, this is what people are really wanting to drive, but this is a technology, or these are all technologies that work very well inside of this industry 4.0, industrial Internet of Things, in that we can control the processes very accurately and we can control how they are put together very accurately and more than that we can monitor exactly where every atom, every material, every bit of material has gone.