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15 January 2009 - PR 09/03

ATKINS Project: a low-carbon manufacturing solution

A Loughborough University led project is set to revolutionise the way components for the aeronautical and automotive sectors are made, leading to a significant reduction in weight, wastage and CO2 emissions both at the manufacturing stage and during use.

The University’s Wolfson School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering will apply state-of-the-art Rapid Manufacturing (RM) techniques – also known as “Additive Manufacturing” – to make parts for aircraft and motor vehicles. RM works by breaking down a 3D computer-aided-design (CAD) model into 2D digital sections, which are then built up layer by layer by high tech robotic machines; effectively directly 3D printing the required design.

The £2.7 million ATKINS project is being funded by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and industry partners, which include Boeing, Virgin Atlantic and Bentley Motors, among significant others.

The ultimate aim of the project is to utilize an additive manufacturing approach, specifically Selective Laser Melting (SLM) of metallic components, to ensure the design, manufacture and distribution of fully optimized automotive/aerospace components are more sustainable with a significantly reduced carbon footprint.

“Current products are generally wasteful in all aspects, from design and manufacture to the final distribution to the consumer,” explains Professor Richard Hague, who is leading the project. “This is mainly a consequence of conventional processes that restrict our current design, manufacture and supply chains. For example, conventional destructive manufacturing techniques, such as machining, result in the removal of large amounts of bulk material in order to produce the end-use part – often machining operations can result in over 90-95% waste material, which then has to be recycled.

“However the unique characteristics of RM mean that such restrictions can be overcome. By using lasers and powdered metal materials, the ATKINS project’s SLM system enables highly complex and intricate components and products to be made with minimum wastage and at the point of demand, for example directly at car and aircraft assembly plants. Also, the manufacturing process allows for fully optimized geometries to be made so that they are also significantly lighter in weight – up to 50% lighter than conventionally manufactured components – leading to massive fuel savings during use.

“The benefits of this project for consumers, industry and the environment are quite staggering,” Professor Hague added. “A 50% weight saving in components will mean much less fuel is needed, which means less CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Additionally, a significant reduction is wastage at the manufacturing stage and the ability to create parts where and when they are needed, rather than at a factory hundreds of miles away, will also both help reduce costs and the environmental impact.”

At Loughborough, Professor Hague and his team of researchers are investigating how emerging RM technologies can be further developed to meet the demands of industry on an international scale. They will create new RM design tools and high-tech machines, and investigate how current supply and demand chains can be developed to cope with RM processes.

“The ATKINS project marks a significant change in how parts are manufactured and delivered to the consumer,” Professor Hague said. 

“It will revolutionise the automotive and aeronautical sectors, and in the future could be applied to any number of other industries.”

For more information, please see http://www.atkins-project.com/

– Ends –

For all media enquiries contact:

Jo Lumani
Senior PR Officer
Loughborough University
T: 01509 228697
E: J.P.Lumani@lboro.ac.uk

Notes for editors:

The full list of industry partners on the project:

  • Boeing
  • Bentley Motors
  • Delphi Diesel Systems
  • MTT Group
  • Econolyst
  • Alcon
  • Perkins Engines
  • Virgin Atlantic

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for excellence in teaching and research, strong links with industry and unrivalled sporting achievement.

It was awarded the coveted Sunday Times University of the Year 2008-09 title, and is consistently ranked in the top fifteen of UK universities in national newspaper league tables. In the 2008 National Student Survey, Loughborough was voted one of the top five universities in the UK, with 22 out of 30 of its subject areas being ranked in the top ten for overall satisfaction. It was named winner of the 2006 and 2007 Times Higher award for the UK’s Best Student Experience and winner of the 2007 award for Outstanding Support for Overseas Students. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, the University has been awarded six Queen's Anniversary Prizes – an achievement bettered by no other institution.

It is a member of the esteemed 1994 Group – a set of internationally recognised, research-intensive universities – and has a reputation for the relevance of its work. Its degree programmes are highly regarded by professional institutions and businesses, and its graduates are consistently targeted by the UK’s top recruiters.

Loughborough is also the UK’s premier university for sport. It has perhaps the best integrated sports development environment in the world and is home to some of the country’s leading coaches, sports scientists and support staff. It also has the country’s largest concentration of world-class training facilities across a wide range of sports.

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