6 July 2016

UK organisations take lead in innovative laser welding research and development project

Aerospace company, Hutchinson AeroTech, has announced that a project to accelerate academic research in laser welding of titanium in order to bring it to industrial maturity for the aerospace sector has been funded by Innovate UK.

The project consortium, led by Hutchinson AeroTech, has been awarded over £1.1 million and brings together AILU members TWI, the Manufacturing Technology Centre (a member of the  High Value Manufacturing Captapult) and IPG Photonics​, as well as Leonardo Helicopters (previously AgustaWestland), TISICS and academic partner Queen’s Unversity Belfast, who intends to use the work directly in the Northern Ireland Technology Centre.

With a strong collaborative effort, the partners will work together to develop and demonstrate industrial welding of structural titanium to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of the aerospace industry. The total project value is almost £1.5 million.

Mark Hutchinson, managing director of Hutchinson AeroTech, comments; “I’m delighted to be able to announce, as project lead, that we have secured over £1.1 million of funding to develop and enhance the process of laser welding. Along with two OEMs and other key partners this is a fantastic opportunity to exploit this technology in a commercial market.

“Eventually, this new capability will replace more traditional assembly techniques on existing and newly designed aerospace parts. Our aim at completion of this project is to be in a prime position to use new developments in robotic laser welding from the project to implement cost savings firstly within the aerospace sector and subsequently to a wider range of industries in the future.  The significant benefits that this project will offer include a reduction in manual labour, lead times, component weight and energy consumption. This will have a exceptional impact on the future of laser welding in the UK aerospace sector.”

The primary benefit of Innovate UK supporting the project is that it enables the consortium to be formed, which would not be possible without this funding The Innovate UK funding will help de-risk this project as it will allow the partner to accelerate innovations in laser welding and promote its acceptance in the aerospace market place.

John Laughlin of Innovate UK, said, "The project will further develop knowledge in laser welding titanium and its application to structural aerospace assemblies, and at the same time exploit this knowledge by developing UK manufacturing capability both within the UK supply chain and OEMs.

"Laser welding is emerging as the process of choice since it can produce low distortion welds of good quality and properties at significantly faster speeds than other welding processes. We are delighted that this funding will allow this consortium to form and with their expertise we will add real value to the future of the aerospace sector."

Manager of Northern Ireland Technology Centre, QUB, Colm Higgins, said, “This is an exciting opportunity for the Northern Ireland Technology Centre (NITC) to translate capability and understanding at Queen’s University Belfast to local industry. Following a recently completed knowledge transfer partnership, the NITC and Hutchinson AeroTech continue to develop their strategic research collaboration.

“Further networking has extended this collaboration into other leading knowledge providers in the UK . With a route to market facilitated with leading aerospace OEMs the OLIVER team is focused on making this project a commercial success for Hutchinson AeroTech, strengthening the important role Queen’s University Belfast has in supporting the local economy.”

Adrian Smith, Project Manager at Leonardo Helicopters, said, “This project has great potential for our sector. Leonardo Helicopters’ intention will be to disseminate any new knowledge and capability within the design activities to allow the technology to be exploited.

“Leonardo Helicopters as an OEM will support other consortium members as the redesign of manually assembled riveted helicopter structures to those which can be laser welded are expected to deliver both manufacturing cost and weight savings.”

Image (L to R): Ray Durman, Operations Director, TISICS Ltd, Dr Chris Allen, Principal Project Leader, TWI Ltd, Adrian Smith, Project Manager, Leonardo Helicopters, Dr Andrew Silcox, Technical Specialist, The MTC, Dr Adrian Murphy, Director Research – Aerospace & Manufacturing, QUB, Helen Lucas , Monitoring Officer on behalf of Innovate UK, Mark Thompson, Director of Sales & Service, IPG Photonics (UK) and Dominic McDonnell, Financial Director, Hutchinson Group.​

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