In a significant advance for the UK, the hub aims to lead research, development and collaboration on metal AM, developing and testing ideas for taking the technology forward.
The hub, in the MTC's Aerospace Research Centre at Coventry, will be formally launched to industry on 15 October, and will also be the home of an online reference resource, as well as a manufacturing facility. Its opening underscores progress in the £15 million MTC-led DRAMA (Digital Reconfigurable Additive Manufacturing facilities for Aerospace) project, which encourages suppliers to the UK aerospace industry to adopt AM. Supported by £11 million from BEIS's Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, DRAMA has already engaged with more than 50 aerospace supply-chain companies, and is still inviting applications for new projects.
Unveiling a plaque in the new facility, Andrea Leadsom said: "This new facility is a great example of the strength of the UK's capability in cutting-edge manufacturing technology, and has significant potential to help boost the competitiveness of UK companies and their supply chains. We're investing £11 million to help build it and support aerospace suppliers to develop their manufacturing capability."
The new hub, which is among the first of its type in Europe, includes a workshop, and design, research and test facilities for AM users and experts who can shape the technology. Participating companies will have access to facilities and expertise in a commercially neutral but technologically world-class environment. Advice on funding technology development will also be available.
The three-year DRAMA project is encouraging the UK aerospace industry's supply chain to adopt AM technologies, which are increasingly being demanded by the country's prime aerospace manufacturers. Suppliers are able to test products and processes in parallel, both digitally or virtually, or in a real environment, either at the MTC's facility or at Renishaw's UK AM solutions centre.
Dr Katy Milne, chief engineer for the DRAMA project at the MTC says the importance of AM to the aerospace industry and other sectors could not be overstated: "AM has the potential to revolutionise design approaches and supply chains. There are more than 4,000 companies involved in the aerospace industry, and there are current examples where aerospace primes have reduced the part count by an order of magnitude. This could be really disruptive for the existing supply chain. For companies who move into this space, there are major opportunities; perhaps the biggest since the introduction of composites. What we’ve learnt from the DRAMA project is that collaboration is vital, and everything we learn for aerospace can be transferred to other sectors."
The funding for DRAMA is being delivered by Innovate UK and supported by the Aerospace Technology Institute. Other partners delivering DRAMA include Renishaw, the Midlands Aerospace Alliance (which is mobilising other UK aerospace groupings), ATS Applied Tech Systems, Autodesk, Granta Design, the National Physical Laboratory and the University of Birmingham.