Speaking at an event earlier this year, the Manufacturing Technology Centre's CEO, Dr Clive Hickman, outlined the organisation's plans and activities. The MTC is one of the organisations that goes to make up the government-backed High Value Manufacturing Catapult (see box item and weblink, below).
Dr Hickman cites two reports as instrumental in the HVM Catapult's establishment – Herman Hauser's 2010 publication 'The Current and Future Role of Technology and Innovation Centres in the UK' and James Dyson's 'Ingenious Britain', also published in 2010 – with the aim, of course, to support the growth of high value manufacturing in the UK.
Image: Dr Clive Hickman, the MTC's CEO
The HVM Catapult centres effectively fulfil the role of bridging academia and industry, in similar vein to the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft in Germany, ITRI in Taiwan, ETRI in South Korea and TNO in the Netherlands. In the UK, the gap between these two is termed "the valley of death", says Dr Hickman. More precisely, that means HVM Catapults taking knowledge at an early level and developing it into something robust enough for industry to apply; and more scientifically, it means bridging what are called technology readiness levels 4 to 7. Levels 1 to 3 are academic research, with 8 and 9 within the scope of industry. So the MTC, and other HVM Catapults, are concerned with "process validation", with public funding channelled through the Technology Strategy Board (there's also private funding, see box p16).
Dr Hickman again: "There are many examples of where the UK has come forward with innovative solutions but, ultimately, these have been manufactured somewhere else other than the UK. Two examples I like to highlight are lithium ion batteries, where all of that technology was developed in Oxford University, but not a single battery is made in the UK; and flat screen TVs, again where the research was undertaken in the UK, but, again, where we don't make them."
So the HVM Catapult Centres will offer "world-leading technical capability available to UK businesses to address their manufacturing challenges, access to world-leading manufacturing technology and expertise, the capability to undertake collaborative R&D, the capability to undertake contract research, access to the knowledge base for world-class science and a professional delivery ethos with a strong business philosophy".
As a group, the HVM Catapult Centres have received over £350 million in public and private funding, and are working with more than 160 industrial partners, Dr Hickman underlines, while the government has committed another £170 million over the next four years.
The HVM Catapult is focused on future areas of growth, which have been pointed up following studies by such bodies as the Institute for Manufacturing. These areas include UK new nuclear build, low cost electric vehicle batteries, ultra-large diameter wind turbines, partial and full composite road vehicles and more.
Turning to the MTC itself and its focus (Machinery has previously reported on the AMRC, the Nuclear ARMC, the National Composites Centre and the AFRC), Dr Hickman highlights areas of activity for the 12,000 m2 facility.
Image: This DMG machining centre is part of the MTC's manufacturing technology set-up
"Our purpose is to improve the business performance of our members and customers by providing novel and well-developed manufacturing solutions," he offers, adding that the MTC was set up by four academic institutions – the University of Birmingham, TWI, Loughborough University and the University of Nottingham, with £40 million public fund backing.
Moving on to specific areas of activity, under the heading of near net shape manufacturing, the processes of additive manufacturing, hot isostatic pressing (HIP) and non-destructive evaluation are listed, with example projects given as the repair of railway wheels and in-situ repair of rails themselves; the production of medical implants manufactured direct from CT scans, avoiding any trial-and- error fit and the need for an additional medical operation; and the application of HIP to the production of large titanium aero-engine parts, which reduces material usage, speeds manufacture and actually delivers superior structural integrity. Birmingham University is the research partner for this area of activity.
In the area of intelligent automation, the MTC is working on the elimination of manufacturing-induced defects, automated in-line inspection and human/robot co-operation, with example projects being an automated picker to place cherries on Bakewell tarts and assembly of flexible parts (rubber door seals) for the automotive sector. It is working with Loughborough University here.
Advanced tooling & fixturing sees the MTC working on right-first-time-and-every-time rapid product set-up, reduced jigs and fixtures inventory, metrology-assisted control of process error build-up and propagation, the mechanical or electronic in-process adaptive control of clamping forces to improve product and process stability, with an example project given as multi-spindle drilling for wing production. The University of Nottingham is the research partner for this particular one.
Image: Automation specialist Güdel is a Tier 2 member (see box below)
Within the high integrity fabrication research area, the MTC is looking at rotary friction welding, high accuracy arc welding, laser processing, joint analysis and testing, with the example project here being high accuracy assembly of a turbine drive centre shaft for an aero engine. The research partner here is TWI.
In the area of electronics manufacturing, the example project is the automated assembly of lithium-ion batteries – a particularly ironic one, given Dr Hickman's examples of things originated in the UK, but lost to overseas producers in the past. Half the cost of a lithium ion battery for a car is related to the assembly of the battery cell and associated electronics, advises Dr Hickman. The target is to reduce weight by 50% and cost by 30%, which will offer the potential for more batteries per car and, therefore, greater range per charge. Loughborough University is the partner.
And under the heading of Computerised Engineering, the HVM Catapult centre is looking at cell design, layout and operation optimisation under the 'cell simulation' heading; under 'production line optimisation', it is looking at virtual commissioning, assembly simulation and factory layout optimisation. The example project is given as bar code identification of components in an automated engine assembly line. If this project is successful, then the same technique can be transferred to the aerospace sector, Dr Hickman suggests. University of Birmingham is the research partner here, again.
Box item 1
The High Value Manufacturing Catapult
The High Value Manufacturing Catapult opened its doors for business in October 2011. Seven partners are working together to form the new Catapult centre, bringing together their expertise in different and complementary areas of high value manufacturing.
The Catapult provides an integrated capability and embraces all forms of manufacture using metals and composites, in addition to process manufacturing technologies and bio-processing. It draws on university research to accelerate the commercialisation of new and emerging manufacturing technologies.
 Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (University of Sheffield), Sheffield
Key Competencies: high performance machining; automated assembly; advanced composites, including hybrid and MMCs and automated processes; structural integrity testing; virtual reality modelling of processes and systems
 Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (Universities of Manchester and Sheffield)
Key Competencies: fabrication of civil nuclear components
 Manufacturing Technology Centre, Coventry
Key Competencies: net shape manufacture; intelligent automation; advanced tooling and fixturing; advanced joining techniques; electronics assembly; system modelling and operational efficiency
 Advanced Forming Research Centre (University of Strathclyde), Glasgow
Key Competencies: billet forging; sheet forming; precision forging
 National Composites Centre (University of Bristol), Bristol
Key Competencies: design and manufacture of composites
 Centre for Process Innovation, Wilton and Sedgefield
Key Competencies: chemical processing; biotechnology; printable electronics
 Warwick Manufacturing Group (University of Warwick), Coventry
Key Competencies: lightweight product system optimisation; energy
Box item 2
Tier 1 – DMG (machine tools), Sandvik Coromant (cutting tools), Siemens (industrial automation), Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Aero Engine Controls, HP.
These members pay a fee of £200,000/annum, with this giving them a voting seat on the Programme Board and the Technology Advisory Board. They have access to all core technology.
Tier 2 – Hexagon Metrology (metrology), NPL (National Physical Laboratory), Renishaw (additive manufacturing, metrology and measurement, dental and medical technology), Nikon Metrology (metrology), MTI (friction welding), Manufacturing Technology Inc (friction and resistance welding).
Members in Tier 2 pay £100,000/annum and have a seat on the Technology Advisory Board and a non-voting seat on the Programme Board. They have access to core technology in defined areas.
Tier 3 – Güdel (automation solutions), Arcam (additive manufacturing), Vibrant NDT (non-destructive testing), GOM (optical measuring systems), ABB (robots), De-St-Co (clamping, gripping, transferring and robotic tooling solutions), Group Rhodes (metalforming machinery and more), Kuka Robotics (robots), Roemheld (workholding), Agie Charmilles (EDM, machining centres), BOC, Brown & Holmes (fixturing), Witte (modular fixturing systems), Theorem Solutions (engineering data services), Europlacer (machines for electronic assembly), Mahr (metrology), Aerotech (aerospace engineering firm that makes tooling and more), Hydro (aircraft ground support equipment) and HoloVis (immersive technologies), Jemtech (cutting fluids), Humiseal (conformal coatings), SQS, West Coast Industries (tooling) and SGS.
Members in this Tier pay £40,000/annum (cash or in kind) and have a seat on the Technology Advisory Board and access to technology developed in areas where they participate.
For the 2012/13 financial year, the MTC will benefit from £3.1 million capital funding and £2.45 million revenue funding. Members are able to access this funding for projects where the member contribution is matched by the Catapult funding, either as revenue or capital in support of the project objectives.
Ownership of intellectual property (IP) varies. If one member funds a project, then it owns all of what is termed foreground IP (IP generated as a result of undertaking the work), with MTC unable to exploit that foreground IP. Where a project is funded by multiple partners, members share foreground IP, can use MTC background IP (IP owned by MTC before the work started), with MTC able to exploit foreground IP, too. In the case of MTC-funded projects, the organisation owns all foreground IP.
As at the early part of this year, the MTC had 38 members, 100 employees and was undertaking 108 projects.
First published in Machinery, September 2012