BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold was delighted to be hosted at the Coventry, UK, Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC), by John Stretton, Director of Aerospace, Defence & Security Sector and Sarah Gilmour, Senior Marketing Manager, what we found was a veritable treasure trove of technology development and capability!
The MTC covers the whole range of technologies from space through aerospace, to construction and healthcare, for this article we will concentrate on defence technology and in particular the development of Additive Manufacturing (AM) on the battlefield to improve logistics and the supply chain from factory to foxhole. This technology is of particular interest to the Editor who wrote a piece on AM in the early 2000s ‘The Future of Logistics Is In The Bag,’ an early concept technology development by Airbus then, now confirmed in 2023 with technologies developed by the MTC and others as achievable.
The MTC is a prime example of where government investment in industrial technology is shown to bring benefits to the economy in the form of new IP, technology and jobs. Constantly facing criticism for ‘Levelling Up,’ and lack of a focused industrial policy, the MTC fulfils all these government pledges and more.
History of The MTC
The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) was established in 2010 as an independent Research & Technology Organisation (RTO) with the objective of bridging the gap between academia and industry – often referred to as ‘the valley of death.’ It represents one of the largest public sector investments in UK manufacturing and, after four years of planning and a 16 month build, the facility opened at Ansty Park in Coventry at the end of 2011.
In December 2011, there were 16 industrial members, 44 staff and just a few key pieces of equipment in the ‘workshop.’ Over the following years the MTC’s rapid growth has seen the expansion of its campus with the construction of more facilities, including the opening of the Advanced Manufacturing Training Centre, the National Centre for Additive Manufacturing, and facilities in Liverpool and Oxford.
The MTC was founded by four forward-thinking institutions: The University of Birmingham, Loughborough University, The University of Nottingham and TWI. The role of the MTC has also increased to cover not only R&D but also Training, Advanced Manufacturing Management and Factory Design. The MTC now has over 800 talented employees. During this time it has helped hundreds of companies across a range of industries and over 100 of them have become members of the MTC. There is an MTC Board headed by Dr. Clive Hickman, Chairman, MTC and an Executive team led by Dr. Graham Hoare OBE, Chief Executive Officer.
“On numerous occasions we have discussed the skills shortages across the defence industry, how is the MTC addressing this shortage?” The Editor asked.
“MTC Training, the skills arm of the MTC, is on a mission to create the next generation of engineering talent while upskilling and reskilling existing workforces, ensuring UK advanced manufacturing businesses have the expertise they need to succeed now and in the future. Specialist training programmes are designed with the help of our cross-sector industry connections to support closing the skills gap, while utilising the team’s future skills experts, instructional designers and industry-experienced trainers to accelerate innovation through technology.
“Three state-of-the-art training centres, located in Coventry, Culham and Liverpool, alongside an innovative approach to online training, enable MTC Training to deliver skills to both aspiring engineers and experienced workforces. The world-class programmes on offer include fully-funded apprenticeships as well as commercial CPD training, supporting customers to gain professional qualifications up to post-graduate level.
“What’s more, we are passionate about promoting engineering and other STEM professions within our industry. We do this through both STEM workshops and events, school visits and by supporting diversity and inclusivity in the STEM community, showing that engineering is a viable career choice for anyone!
“From our extensive experience across a range of industry sectors, the MTC understands the challenges and pressures faced by manufacturers large and small. We use our expertise to work hand-in-hand with the defence industry, developing manufacturing system solutions to support and close the skills gaps in the sector for the short and long term.” John Stretton said.
The MTC blends a range of services and world-leading technologies to provide a holistic approach, delivering the most progressive, productive outcome for businesses.
The MTC’s main aims are to:
* improve customer’s productivity
* reduce customer’s costs
* embed innovative new technologies
* de-risk the use of new technologies in the customer’s workplace
* ultimately helping to accelerate the UK’s industrial growth
UK MoD Activities
“Could you tell us about activities carried out with the MoD?”
“The MoD recognises the need to build modernised defence that is able to outpace adversaries and retain their adaptive edge. It also has an objective to spend 25% of its budget with SMEs. The UK defence industry spends over £1.9 billion on research and development (R&D) annually. Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) oversee circa £10 billion per year of MoD spend. The DE&S strategy is to significantly evolve military procurement and equipment support and deliver through pace and agility, value to the tax payer, people, digital solutions and innovative partners.” John Stretton said.
Aims and Objectives of MoD activities
* Focus on manufacturability of products before production
* Increasing MoD access to SME innovation, knowledge and capability
* Reducing bespoke nature of defence products
* A reduction in lead time to reach the front line
* The development of an end-to-end integrated enterprise
* To build a sustainable defence
Conference and Events facilities
John and Sarah then took the Editor to tour the extensive Conference and Events facilities.
“MTC Events provides access to a state-of-the-art venue comprising of a large auditorium, exhibition spaces and meeting rooms; set in architecturally stunning surroundings, created to inspire our clients and their guests. Our event spaces combine the MTC’s reputation for world-leading manufacturing with the highest quality meeting facilities, providing flexible spaces capable of hosting events from three to 400 attendees. In addition we have several hotels close by and excellent transport links using Birmingham airport and the Coventry mainline station.” Sarah Gilmour said.
Additive Manufacturing (AM) Facilities
One of the key capabilities of the MTC is Additive Manufacturing. BATTLESPACE covered this technology in detail in the July issue, Unleashing the Future: The Rise of Additive Manufacturing,’ it is worth repeating some of the key capabilities.
Additive manufacturing (AM), which incorporates 3D printing, has emerged as a disruptive force in the defence sector, transforming the way defence-focused organisations design, produce, and maintain critical assets. This revolutionary technology has found applications across various domains, including the production of drones, submarines, replacement parts in the field, and addressing the challenges associated with obsolete components. Additive manufacturing is reshaping the defence industry, driving innovation, enhancing operational efficiency, and ensuring readiness in the face of evolving threats.
As the government-appointed National Centre for Additive Manufacturing, the MTC has a huge floor space dedicated to R&D of AM and associated capabilities, and brings together one of the most comprehensive combinations of equipment and capability in the UK.
Additive Manufacturing (AM) holds significant importance for the defence sector due to its impact on logistics, part performance improvement, new product development, and component repair. The flexibility and rapid prototyping capabilities of AM are instrumental in enabling the defence sector to quickly develop and iterate on new products, accelerating research and development cycles, fostering innovation, and facilitating technology integration.
“The war in Ukraine has underscored the practicality of AM in supplementing battlefield activities. AM technology has been instrumental in producing crucial items that were otherwise unavailable through conventional means. Protective gear, medical supplies, replacement parts, drones, and weapons accessories have been successfully printed, addressing urgent needs on the ground. In the first two months of the invasion of Ukraine one volunteer organisation estimated that they had printed collectively 10,000 parts in assistance of Ukraine.” John Stretton said.
“In terms of logistics, AM enables point-of-need supply, allowing military units to produce essential parts in forward operating positions. This reduces reliance on traditional supply chains, enhances responsiveness, and operational readiness. Component obsolescence is another major challenge AM is tackling. Project TAMPA, for example, addresses the logistics challenges faced by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in supplying obsolete items. By using AM, TAMPA aims to reduce lead times and costs associated with procuring these items, ensuring that aging fleets can remain operational without significant downtime or expenses.” John Stretton continued.
Additive Manufacturing (AM) is making significant strides in the defence sector across various domains including Land, Sea and Air. Boeing has utilised AM to print transmission housings for Chinook helicopters and the F35 programme have found cost-effective workarounds for replacement parts. While not publicly disclosed, it is likely that more extensive AM activities are taking place behind closed doors. AM is also expected to play a key role in the UK’s TEMPEST fighter jet which aims to produce 30% of its components using AM. The specific target percentage is less important than the potential performance gains that can be achieved by pragmatically incorporating AM in significant amounts. General Atomics, in partnership with Divergent, has created a modular system using large PBF-LB/M printers and robots to rapidly customise high-value drones for reconnaissance or tactical missions. By combining optimised lightweight designs and alloys, this approach significantly improves the performance of the drones.
In the realm of space, AM has been a driving force for technological advancements. Flight-critical hardware, including thrust chambers, pumps, impellers, RF antennas, waveguides, and brackets, are increasingly produced using AM. Companies like SpaceX and Relativity Space heavily rely on AM for their flight-critical hardware. The use of AM onboard ships aims to provide critical spare parts, ensuring continuous operation without the need for shore-based resupply or returning to port. This capability offers significant logistical advantages for nations that can effectively utilise AM technology in a marine environment. AM is also considered for meeting the demand in submarine construction, addressing component availability issues like large titanium castings. Collaboration with partners like IperionX enables the US Navy to produce recycled titanium powder.
Factory-to-Foxhole – Deployed Manufacturing on the battlefield
Deployed manufacturing spaces are not new phenomena, one effort by the US Marines include the “Factory in a Box” (FIAB) concept. This portable Expeditionary Fabrication Shop can be set up in just 30 minutes upon arrival, enabling manufacturing and repairs in remote, infrastructure-limited areas. With metrology, additive and subtractive equipment, the FIAB allows engineers to reverse engineer damaged equipment, offering various manufacturing methods for critical component replacement or repair. Armed forces worldwide are exploring similar concepts. Smaller printers like the X7 Field edition from Marked Forged, housed in an impact-resistant and flame-retardant case with remote power generation, facilitate seamless operation in forward locations.
The British Army is leveraging metal cold-spray printing technology to bolster unplanned repair capabilities. Working closely with the British Army’s Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Spee3D is spearheading the project to assess whether the technology can swiftly produce parts from well-known metal alloys to meet real-time needs in the field. The portable XSPEE3D printer has been designed to fit into a standard shipping container, enhancing its mobility. With all auxiliary equipment consolidated in one box.
John and Sarah left the best part of the tour until last!
We walked into a huge, concreted area sub-divided into workplace sections.
“R&D is taking place here on a 24/7 basis in industries including defence and aerospace. Some of that R&D may not be seen by the general public but is essential in the defence and security of the country into the next Century.” John Stretton concluded.
From what was advertised to the Editor as a ‘Whistle stop tour of the MTC,’ the Editor left after over four hours, missing his next appointment!”
A true gem of UK world-beating government industrial investment and technology development which should be shouted about from the rooftops!
Visit the MTC at DSEI 2023
As the UK defence industry’s manufacturing centre of expertise, the MTC will be at DSEI 2023. Find them on stand H2-260 in the Manufacturing Hub and meet John and the team to discuss how the MTC can support your manufacturing challenges.