Smart composites
EPSRC Strategic Partnership with GE Aviation and Bristol University


This project is funded jointly by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and GE Aviation through a Strategic Partnership in Materials. In 2006 and following a competition, Oxford and Bristol Universities were awarded the Strategic Partnership that comprises an extensive five-year programme on Smart Composites (SmartComp).

SmartComp has two themes: (i) a minor, short term theme concerned with low cost manufacture of composites; and (ii) a larger long term theme on self-actuating composites for aerospace and other applications.

Press release 12-11-06:

The world of composite technology is set for innovation thanks to a strategic partnership between the University of Bristol, the University of Oxford and GE Aviation (then Smiths).

The GE Aviation Aerospace University Technology Strategic Partnership (UTSP) in smart composites and metallics will deliver a step change in composites technology over the next five years, and lay the foundations for more far-reaching innovation over the longer term.

Originally set up in 2005 with an initial investment of £1.25 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and GE Aviation (then Smiths), the UTSP will have two broad themes of research. The first will focus on low cost and 3-D composites led by Bristol with input from Oxford, and will provide new capabilities that can be applied in the next 3-5 years. The second revolves around self-actuating composites and will be a joint activity, with Oxford laying out a ten-year technology roadmap and Bristol developing a number of innovative concepts which can be demonstrated within a five-year timescale.

The research on low cost composites will develop automated manufacturing techniques using robotics and mechanical forming and apply low-cost, rapid tooling techniques such as freeze-cast ceramics. It will also seek to use innovative 3-D fibre architectures (e.g. weaves, braids, fabrics) to reduce manufacturing costs while providing excellent mechanical performance needed for future aerospace applications.

Dr. John Ferrie, President of Smiths Aerospace commented, “Investment in research and technology for future aerospace programmes is vital to our industry,” he continued, “Smiths has increased its commitment to technology leadership by more than doubling investment in R&D to 10 percent of annual sales. Strategic partnerships with the universities enable Smiths to invest in developing the talents of our young people, while cultivating advanced technology.”

The exciting new collaboration will be led by University UTSP Director, Professor Michael Wisnom together with eight other academics from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Bristol; and Professor Patrick Grant and Dr Stephen Duncan from Oxford. Currently the UTSP has 3 postdoctoral Research Associates (PDRA) and 5 PhD students carrying out Smiths related research in Bristol, and a further PDRA at Oxford.

Professor Patrick Grant, Cookson Professor of Materials at the University of Oxford said ”The joint Smiths-Bristol-Oxford team has already identified a number of specific applications for smart composites and the strategic collaboration provides a long-term platform essential for continuing such an ambitious project.”

Professor Michael Wisnom, Director of the GE Aviation UTSP, University of Bristol added, “We are excited by the opportunity to apply our composites expertise to advancing the design and manufacture of current aerospace products, and to work together with Oxford University on future cutting edge applications of smart composites technologies.”

GE Aviation's aim is to build a centre of expertise at Bristol, to develop their research capacity, generate intellectual property and to link this to education, training and recruitment. A new, dedicated centre has been developed at the Advanced Composites Centre at Bristol for staff and students with additional desks for visitors from Oxford and GE Aviation. There will also be secondment of staff between the universities and GE Aviation as well as regular joint seminars. New ideas generated by the cutting edge partnership will be developed into further proposals for funding from UK and EU sources to create a portfolio of world-class research and for generating exciting new technologies for exploitation.

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