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University of Bath to lead work on composites for aircraft

News International-French

6 Nov 2013

One of Bath University leading aerospace composites researchers has been awarded a prestigious Research Chair by the Royal Academy of Engineering and GKN Aerospace to carry out work that will have a significant impact on the design and manufacture of composite structures for future aircraft.

Whilst the weight-saving advantages of composite laminates in aerospace structures are well proven, there remains much to gain from improving production processes to increase the speed and consistency of manufacture and to reduce production and material costs, particularly in massive, complex parts such as those found in aerospace.

Professor Richard Butler from our Department of Mechanical Engineering has been awarded the five-year Research Chair to develop a suite of analytical methods to improve manufacturing processes and optimize the efficient use of fibre-reinforced composite material in high-value composite structures.

These areas are of critical importance to the future market leadership of GKN Aerospace, and the wider success of the UK composites industry.

Prof Butler, who leads a team of researchers in our Composites Research Unit (CRU) with a proven track record in analysis and optimisation of aerospace composites, said: “The Chair provides a fantastic opportunity for partnership between a world-leading aerospace manufacturer and the university. This will be a huge benefit for research and graduate opportunities in aerospace composites at Bath.”

Richard Oldfield, GKN Aerospace Technical Director, said: “The Composites Research Unit at Bath is having a significant impact on the way in which we use analytical methods to improve our design and manufacturing processes.

The University is providing investment through the appointment of Drs Andy Rhead and Tim Dodwell to new academic positions in Composites. The University has also refurbished the composites testing laboratory and invested in advanced equipment required to undertake the programme, including a powerful X-ray CT scanner and a high performance computer that will be used to visualise and analyse internal defects and cracks.

GKN Aerospace will provide significant investment in the Chair and access to its wide range of capabilities in research, engineering and manufacturing whilst supporting applications for third party funding to sustain and grow the CRU. One example is the award of a major new grant from the government research council EPSRC for the CRU to work with Bath mathematician Prof Rob Scheichl and world-leading American researchers.

This project will develop new mathematical multi-scale methods to improve composites manufacturing processes and reduce structural weight in large-scale components such as wing spars and jet engine fan blades.

Prof Butler said: “This Research Chair will provide an opportunity to develop significant partnerships with the wider composites community through the National Composites Centre and with international academic networks. It’s very exciting to be able to contribute in bringing this community’s work together.”

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