Friday, 7 September 2012

Robots, wind tubines and the cave

Yesterday a few of our senior managers when on a trip!  Really exciting - a bit like a school trip. We went to visit the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), part of the Faculty of Engineering which is located on the Advanced Manufactuinrg Park just outside Sheffield. Most people know it by the huge wind turbine which you see as you approach Sheffield down the Parkway, but I suspect not many people know what goes on there.

It's a very large place consisting of a number of buildings - the original AMRC, AMRC2 or Factory of the Future, the Composite  Centre and a Knowledge Transfer Centre. It was a fascinating tour - the AMRC works with many partners, and in essence works with them on highly specialised manufacturing processes, to improve them, cut down product time, improve accuracy etc. They have very highly specialised machines, lathes and, most exciting, of all robots! Unfortunately I wasn't allowed to take pictures of them, but I did get some of assorted machines.

Some of their case studies are very impressive - cutting down the time it takes to fit a blade to a jet engine from hours to seconds for example. In fact, sometimes they cut the time so much, the rest of the assembly line can't keep up. They also work with composite materials, and we had a good session looking at carbon fibre - which is really fibre coated with carbon. Who knew? It's light, so you can make airplane parts out of it such as landing gear, and some planes are now 50% carbon fibre.

The robots were particualry exciting, and the precision of them is helped by a very complex internal GPS system so they know exctly where they are.

At one point we all donned glasses and went into "the cave" - a 3D virtual reality area where we flew over the factory and got up close and personal with a jet engine.

It was a fascinating trip, and one that more people should do if they get the chance to see the real applied research that is going on in the University. We did have a chat about their IT requirements, but mainly it was just to see what was going on. We should do it more often!

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