On the 26 June, MANTRA was unveiled at the Dorcan Technical College, Swindon. Mantra is a large articulated HGV, built to take new manufacturing processes to the outside world. AMRC's projects director, John Baragwanath, explains: "It's about taking the tools, technologies and techniques developed in the AMRC out to business, rather than expecting business to spend time travelling to the AMRC. It is a further example of the business-friendly approach that has enabled the AMRC partnership to be so successful. Image: Delivering a positive image of manufacturing "MANTRA will also travel to schools and colleges to encourage young people to consider engineering and manufacturing as a career. There has been a lost generation of engineers in the UK; many people in South Yorkshire worked in manufacturing, but they lost their jobs – some more than once – because of the decline of traditional industries and they are, not surprisingly, less than enthusiastic about their children becoming engineers. As a result, there has been a lost generation of engineers that the country needs and the AMRC wants to help replace. There is also the 'oily rag' image problem to challenge, but that is quickly dispelled with a visit to MANTRA or the AMRC itself. When young people see the R&D taking place in the AMRC, they are enthused and appreciate that there is an interesting, worthwhile and challenging future in manufacturing, but I don't think this is a message that always comes across to schoolchildren, today." REACH OUT; MANTRA'S THERE In fact, schoolchildren already visit the AMRC, he underlines, but MANTRA is a further development that allows the organisation to "reach out" to greater numbers. So, with £500,000 of support from the Engineering and Science Research Council (EPSRC), the AMRC is taking to the road. This support was won in a competition, under the Knowledge Transfer Challenge banner, with AMRC awarded the funding in November 2007. Of the five finalists – all of whom got £100,000 for getting to that stage – the MANTRA idea of a truck-based, mobile initiative captured the judges' imagination. It has taken about 18 months to design, build and get MANTRA on the road – quite literally. Companies in the Sheffield-city area are already well placed to access the AMRC's Rolls-Royce Factory of the Future, an environmentally friendly building, with on-site renewable energy generation, water recycling and many other environmental features; an ideal environment for the sustainable manufacturing processes developed by the AMRC. MANTRA will travel to the rest of Yorkshire and more widely in the UK, while Mr Baragwanath also expects the truck to be used in promoting UK technologies overseas. Industrial visits are the prime focus, with schools following that. MANTRA is currently a two-year project, but is expected to be extended through extra sponsorship from AMRC partner companies and the public sector. Image: MANTRA– taking technology on the road So, what's inside MANTRA? Well, it reflects the AMRC's breadth of activities, which take in machining, additive manufacturing (powder-based and weld deposition), automated assembly of large, high value objects (airframe and aero engine assembly, for example), and composites-based manufacturing and testing. The benefits already achieved by the AMRC, in terms of improved products, processes and productivity, will be the focus of MANTRA. "There are videos showing much of the AMRC's research, with presenters providing additional explanation. The display vehicle also houses a fully operational Mori Seiki lathe [DuraTurn 2050 – 0844 800 7650]," adds Mr Baragwanath. MANTRA will focus on four key areas: advanced machining, including technologies such as tooling optimisation, damping and post-machining inspection; advanced automated assembly, which includes technologies such as GPS, laser alignment, laser radar, laser tracking, laser projectors, smart tooling, virtual assembly and robotics; innovative metal processing, including laser sintering, e-beam sintering, metal injection moulding and shaped metal deposition; and composite manufacturing, including automated tow placement using robots. The interrelated demonstrations will show companies how such technologies have been successfully applied, typically reducing manufacturing times by at least a factor of five. Image: LCD screens and story boards spread the word The truck houses seven LCD screens, plus one plasma display, the Mori Seiki lathe and a virtual reality (VR) suite. The VR system, which replicates the much larger one to be found in the AMRC facility, is a computer system that allows designers and engineers to understand assembly challenges ahead of committing to a design in the real world. It is also an invaluable tool, such that virtual assembly, repair and maintenance training can be carried out in a safe environment. Additionally, the VR system has network capability, thus opening up remote design review, training and support possibilities. Initial visits are already planned, with MANTRA having already travelled to the Royal International Air Tattoo, RAF Fairford, Glos, 17 to 20 July. First published in Machinery August 2009