Advanced composite materials consist of reinforcement fibres, usually carbon or glass, embedded within a matrix, usually a polymer, providing a structural material. They are very attractive to a number of user sectors, in particular transportation due to their combination of low weight and excellent material properties which can be tailored to specific applications. Components are typically manufactured either by depositing fibres into a mould and then infusing with resin (liquid moulding) or by forming and consolidation of pre-impregnated fibres (prepreg processing).
The current UK composites sector has a value of £1.5 billion and is projected to grow to over £4 billion by 2020, and to between £6 billion and £12 billion by 2030. This range depends on the ability of the industry to deliver structures at required volumes and quality levels demanded by its target applications. Much of this potential growth is associated with next generation single-aisle aircraft, light-weighting of vehicles to reduce fuel consumption, and large, lightweight and durable structures for renewable energy and civil infrastructure. The benefits of lightweight composites are clear, and growth in their use would have a significant impact on both the UK's climate change and infrastructure targets, in addition to a direct impact on the economy through jobs and exports. However the challenges that must be overcome to achieve this growth are significant. For example, BMW currently manufacture around 20,000 i3 vehicles per year with significant composites content. To replace mass produced vehicles this production volume would need to increase by up to 100-times. Airbus and Boeing each produce around 10 aircraft per month (A350 and 787 respectively) with high proportions of composite materials. The next generation single aisle aircraft are likely to require volumes of 60 per month. Production costs are high relative to those associated with other materials, and will need to reduce by an order of magnitude to enable such growth levels.
The Future Composites Manufacturing Hub will enable a step change in manufacturing with advanced polymer composite materials. The Hub will be led by the University of Nottingham and University of Bristol; with initial research Spokes at Cranfield, Imperial College, Manchester and Southampton; Innovation Spokes at the National Composites Centre (NCC), Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) and Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG); and backed by 18 leading companies from the composites sector. Between the Hub, Spokes and industrial partners we will offer a minimum of £12.7 million in additional support to deliver our objectives. Building on the success of the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing in Composites (CIMComp), the Hub will drive the development of automated manufacturing technologies that deliver components and structures for demanding applications, particularly in the aerospace, transportation, construction and energy sectors. Over a seven year period, the Hub will underpin the growth potential of the sector, by developing the underlying processing science and technology to enable Moore's law for composites: a doubling in production capability every two years.
To achieve our vision we will address a number of research priorities, identified in collaboration with industry partners and the broader community, including: high rate deposition and rapid processing technologies; design for manufacture via validated simulation; manufacturing for multifunctional composites and integrated structures; inspection and in-process evaluation; recycling and re-use. Matching these priorities with UK capability, we have identified the following Grand Challenges, around which we will conduct a series of Feasibility Studies and Core Projects:
-Enhance process robustness via understanding of process science
-Develop high rate processing technologies for high quality structures