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Monday, 31 October 2011

Composites centre holds promise for automotive

The Engineer
Oct 31, 2011

Transformers:The NCC’s autoclaves turn layers of material into solid components

A new centre of excellence is seeking to enhance the UK’s composites expertise.

Ever since the financial crisis took hold in 2007, politicians have been shouting over each other for a ’rebalancing of the economy’ away from financial engineering towards real engineering and high-value manufacturing.

This of course misses the point that the UK was already punching above its weight in manufacturing, with unique expertise in particular areas. Nevertheless the ensuing credit problem risks losing this position and missing out on valuable opportunities with fledgling technologies, as companies scale back on research and development.

Partly in response to this threat, the government has created the High Value Manufacturing Technology and Innovation Centre (HVM-TIC) a consortium of seven centres from across the UK (see panel one).

The newest of these and arguably the most ambitious in scope is the National Composites Centre (NCC) in Bristol. It will cater for a range of potential partners, from individual university research groups to global corporations, across different industrial sectors. As a corollary it also aims to drive down carbon emissions through the widescale uptake of composite components.

’One of the key reasons for the growth of composites is that you can make things lighter, and for anything that moves if you make it lighter you need less energy to make it move, to make it go round corners or stop it’s pretty fundamental Newtonian laws,’ said Peter Chivers, NCC chief executive.

Of course, the UK has decades of composite experience in specialist aerospace components and performance cars McLaren being the first company to use the technology in Formula 1 motorsport back in 1981. But this expertise has tended to be somewhat isolated and focused on particular processes or single components. Some believe that has prevented the transfer of technologies and the emergence of a unified ’UK composites industry’.
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