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Industry Contributors wanted for large scale composites structures study

News International-French

28 May 2014

Industry Contributors are wanted to scope the demand for a UK-based large composites structures centre as part of a study for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

The National Composites Centre (NCC), in conjunction with the University of Southampton, Solent LEP and partners, is investigating the need for a centre to research and develop the use of advanced materials in the manufacture of large structures needed by sectors such as marine, oil and gas and construction. The study follows a Solent Maritime Forum report which cited a national need for a 'Large Structures Composites Centre'.

The plan to foster growth in the marine and maritime industry in the Solent was commissioned by Michael Fallon MP following the decision by BAE Systems to end shipbuilding operations in Portsmouth. ‘Transforming Solent’ was produced by Rear Admiral Rob Stevens CB and, amongst a number of recommendations; it suggested that the feasibility of establishing a national Large Structures Composites Centre in that region be investigated in partnership with local Universities including Southampton and regulators. The draft Solent LEP Growth Plan published in January 2014 highlighted as one of its key proposals the creation of such a centre in the Solent Region aimed largely at the marine and renewables sectors.

Minister for Portsmouth, Michael Fallon MP said, “In my role as Minister for Portsmouth, I take a close interest in economic opportunities across the whole Solent area. I am working closely with local and national stakeholders to identify local growth opportunities which fit into the wider national interest to the benefit of all.”

Last November, he established the Solent Maritime Forum, chaired by Rear Admiral Rob Stevens, to identify what further steps need to be taken to secure sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors locally. One of the key opportunities which the Solent Maritime Forum has identified is the national need for a 'Large Structures Composites Centre’. The report argues that such a Centre would allow companies to develop advanced manufacturing techniques for large structures across the whole composites industry. A satellite location of the existing NCC, the Centre could be supported by the composites expertise already well developed by Universities and companies in the local area, but would be a national resource available to all. The local expertise in the marine industry, along with the importance of waterfront access, is a key driver for locating such a Centre in the Solent region.

Further discussions with the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the Composites Leadership Forum (CLF) confirm that there is a national capability gap in this area. If built, it is expected that the NLSCC would effectively become an extension to the NCC, and therefore part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. However, further detailed work is required to investigate that such a Centre would be viable both economically and in terms of demand from potential users. NCC will carry out a full viability study into this potential project.

The success of the NCC and the HVM Catapult have shown how cross-sector knowledge transfer can take lessons learnt from one sector to maximise the benefit in another with minimal commercial risk to those companies who wish to collaborate. With the Government’s Industrial Strategy now published, and the work of the CLF indicating further industry demand, it’s vital that they gain participation from all companies wishing to undertake prototyping of large composites structures.

The Composites Leadership Forum (CLF) representing composites manufacturing companies, across the full spectrum of the UK’s manufacturing sectors are currently generating a new UK Composites Strategy. This will be published later this year and, amongst the findings emerging from this work, is a gap in UK capability to meet the potential demand for development of large composite structures from the marine, oil and gas, construction, renewable energy and rail sectors among others.

The NCC wants to work with industry, industry trade bodies, trade regulators and government. They will focus on whether there are specific issues around test facilities for large composite structures and knowledge transfer requirements for training, re-skilling and up-skilling people transferring from other disciplines to advanced composites applications. They’re looking for involvement from companies who wish to look at product and process development, optimisation, and validation. They need industry input to establish the demand and help specify the solution.

The study is being conducted between May and July 2014.