A consortium of 22 companies from across Great Britain and led by GKN Aerospace (Isle of Wight, U.K.), i-Composites, has concluded a one-year challenge set by the U.K. Technology Strategy Board on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
Called The Composites Grand Challenge, the program required the companies to collaborate to progress innovations in vital composite manufacturing technologies. These technologies are expected to extend the U.K.’s ability to rapidly and sustainably manufacture affordable, high-performance composite products.
From now until July 2011, the i-Composites consortium will participate in and host events showcasing the results of the research and sharing the outcomes across U.K. The first of these will be exhibiting at the BIS Composites Exhibition from June 6-17.
U.K. Business Minister Mark Prisk says, "Today's exhibition at BIS demonstrates the success of the joint funded Grand Challenge program. It also highlights the U.K. expertise that is putting our country at the forefront of new developments.
"The composite market is a high-value and fast-growing sector with huge opportunities to create economic growth. Opportunities in the U.K. wind turbine blade and aerospace markets alone will be worth an estimated £22 billion by 2020.
"Later this year the new government-funded National Composites Centre will open in Bristol, providing manufacturing facilities on an industrial scale, capable of building prototypes to validate design concepts and rapid manufacturing process."
The final showcase event for the i-Composites program will be at the newly built National Composites Centre at SPark in Bristol towards the end of July.
The competition to win the Grand Challenge was run by the Technology Strategy Board on behalf of BIS, which funded the competition. The winning consortium gained £10 million funding — £5m from BIS with matched funds from the participating companies. This funding has been used to progress 26 projects, which were focused around five themes: energy reduction, automation, process time reduction, materials and sustainability.
Marcus Bryson, CEO of GKN Aerospace, says, “Without doubt, the Grand Challenge program has substantially progressed the U.K.’s manufacturing capabilities in the growing field of composites. We encourage BIS and the Technology Strategy Board to embark on further programs of this nature in order to maintain the momentum the Grand Challenge has stimulated and support the creation of sustainable economic growth for the U.K.”
Results from a year of work across the research program include the development of advanced methods of wing manufacture, the development and validation of rapid curing technologies and techniques to significantly increase the affordability and availability of high-performance composite fabrics. In the latter case a significant automotive market opportunity has been established. Over the year capability levels have improved by an average of two increments, typically from Capability Readiness Level 3 to CRL5.
“When we set the Composites Grand Challenge last year, part of the objective was to create a new, strong force for innovation in a sector that has been fragmented. We are delighted to see that this diverse consortium has worked so well together to address the challenges faced by their industry. They have found innovative approaches, shared the outcomes of their research and moved the U.K.’s manufacturing capabilities forward in this vital and growing sector,” says Dr. John Morlidge, lead technologist for Advanced Materials at the Technology Strategy Board.