UK prime minister announces major investment boost for UK's largest dynamic test facility

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Photo of engineering student measuring the acceleration of a Piper Tomahawk wing

Engineering student Daniella Tiboaca is pictured measuring the acceleration of a Piper Tomahawk wing

The UK prime minister, David Cameron, has today (Wednesday 29 July 2015) announced a major investment boost which will see the UK poised to take a world lead in structural dynamics research.

The new investment will support the University of Sheffield to build one of the largest dynamic test facilities in the UK. The prime minister announced the new £4 million investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) during this week's trade mission to Malaysia and Singapore. The trade mission was arranged by Department of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) to strengthen support for the Northern Powerhouse and improve university-industry collaborations.

The new £4 million grant takes the total current investment in the facility to £11 million. The Structural Dynamics Laboratory for Verification and Validation, which will be built on the second phase of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Park, will be unique in its research and development offer to businesses across the UK. It will drive forward collaborative research with industry and cement Sheffield's position as a world leader in structural dynamics.

The facility will enable the University of Sheffield to work with industry to test and research engineering structures and systems from the component level to full scale. It will also allow testing across a range of environments previously inaccessible to academic research.

Speaking about the investment from the EPSRC, Professor Philip Nelson FREng, Chief Executive of the EPSRC, said: This £4 million investment will provide a step change in structural dynamics research and position the UK as a world leader in this field.

By investing in this area of research and innovation at Sheffield, we are providing an internationally excellent platform supporting industry and business to help deliver a successful economy and future growth.

A modular environmental chamber in the laboratory will be able to control temperature, humidity and wind speed as well as simulate rain and snow. The ability to test in realistic conditions at full scale will pave the way for engineers to create lighter, greener, safer structures.

The development of the new Structural Dynamics Laboratory for Verification and Validation has been widely endorsed by industry. Many leading companies, including Airbus and Rolls-Royce, have written letters of support for the new facility which will transform the opportunities to research in structural dynamics in the UK.

Professor Richard Jones, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield, said: Computer simulation of models of the way large structures behave in use are increasingly powerful, but for industry to realise the full benefits of these techniques we need to test these models against large scale experimental data, so they can be confident of their results.

This facility will allow us to do this testing, giving industry confidence in the models and allowing faster and therefore more cost effective product developments in a number of different industry sectors.

Better modelling also means we will be able to move from structures that have a safe-life design philosophy to a damage-tolerant one which offers cost savings through extending the lifetime of existing structures.

Led by the Dynamics Research Group (DRG) in the University's Department of Mechanical Engineering, the laboratory will offer significant benefits across a range of industrial sectors including energy, aerospace, renewables and medical engineering.

The DRG is already one of the largest specialist groups in the world; it is hoped the new facility will enable the DRG to become the primary resource for structural dynamics within the European Union.

Professor Keith Worden, head of the DRG, is set to become Director of the new Structural Dynamics Laboratory for Verification and Validation.

This new facility is extremely important for the University of Sheffield and will give the UK a world-lead in verification and validation research while accelerating new methods and test protocols, said Professor Worden.

Advances in structural dynamics hold the key to major cost reductions across many of the UK's priority industrial engineering sectors.

This facility will have the ability to test structures like helicopters and airframes at full-scale and will present the UK with a unique opportunity to take a world lead in verification and validation.

It has been identified that there is a critical gap in UK Universities in medium and large scale infrastructure for structural dynamics and furthermore, this gap has been identified as detrimental to UK innovation.

This new development contributes towards the vision for the UK's first Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District, which will provide a centre of productivity for the Northern Powerhouse.

Construction is already underway on the first project at the site, the £43 million Factory 2050 which will be the UK's first fully reconfigurable assembly and component manufacturing facility for collaborative research. Plans are also in place to develop the existing Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre which could create 1,800 new jobs and provide an annual direct contribution of up to £74.2 million to the local economy.

Other new research buildings could include the £30 million National Material Institute, which is part of the Sir Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials announced in December and a £20 million Fast Make Centre of Excellence.

This announcement comes just over a week since Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, visited the University's Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and announced a pioneering new education route for successful apprentices to study advanced vocational University degrees, as part of their apprenticeship training.

Notes for Editors

The University of Sheffield

With almost 26,000 of the brightest students from around 120 countries, learning alongside over 1,200 of the best academics from across the globe, the University of Sheffield is one of the world's leading universities.

A member of the UK's prestigious Russell Group of leading research-led institutions, Sheffield offers world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines.

Unified by the power of discovery and understanding, staff and students at the university are committed to finding new ways to transform the world we live in.

In 2014 it was voted number one university in the UK for Student Satisfaction by Times Higher Education and in the last decade has won four Queen's Anniversary Prizes in recognition of the outstanding contribution to the United Kingdom's intellectual, economic, cultural and social life.

Sheffield has five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and its alumni go on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence all over the world, making significant contributions in their chosen fields.

Global research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, AstraZeneca, Glaxo SmithKline, Siemens and Airbus, as well as many UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.

By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture.

We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

Reference: PN 38-15

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