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Collaborative Project by University of Strathclyde’s AFRC and ITP Aero Aims to Revolutionize Aerospace Superplastic Forming

by Anna

In a strategic collaboration, the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) and ITP Aero have embarked on a groundbreaking three-year, £750,000 project to transform the aerospace superplastic forming (SPF) process. The initiative, part of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland Group, aims to minimize energy consumption, reduce material waste, and enhance productivity throughout the entire lifecycle of aerospace superplastic forming.

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The primary goal of this joint effort is to develop a predictive tool capable of identifying the optimal temperature for successful SPF across ITP Aero’s product range. The tool will not only predict microstructure evolution but also forecast damage initiation and alpha-case formation during SPF. Utilizing experimental data, the tool will further predict the process parameters essential for SPF of industrial-scale components.

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By achieving a reduction in forming temperature without compromising dimensional accuracy or component performance, the project is anticipated to deliver significant environmental and economic benefits. This aligns with ITP Aero’s commitment to becoming a net-zero company by 2050.

The anticipated benefits include:

Directly Reduced Energy Consumption: Lowering the forming temperature will result in reduced energy consumption, subsequently decreasing the carbon footprint and associated costs.

Minimized Alpha Case Formation: The project aims to reduce the formation of the hard, brittle, oxygen-rich layer (alpha case) in the formed component. This reduction could enable the use of less chemically intense or mechanical methods for its removal.

Increased Productivity: A lower forming temperature is expected to increase the number of process cycles before tooling requires cleaning. Additionally, less expensive tooling materials can be utilized, contributing to enhanced productivity.

Professor Brad Wynne, Director of the Advanced Forming Research Centre, expressed enthusiasm about the project’s integrated modeling approach, combining damage analysis with the SPF process at an industrial scale. He highlighted the significance of building a fundamental understanding of how industrial practices can deliver sustainability and productivity benefits.

Mark Dodds, Research and Technology Manager for ITP Aero UK, emphasized the company’s commitment to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and carbon neutrality in operations by 2030. He explained that understanding and optimizing the hot-forming process, along with minimizing post-processing, are crucial steps in achieving these ambitious sustainability goals.

This collaborative project is part of a broader initiative funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), amounting to nearly £5 million. The funding is matched by contributions from business partners, supporting research collaborations that address industry-driven challenges and foster early-stage academic-business partnerships. The AFRC and ITP Aero collaboration stands as a testament to the potential for transformative advancements in aerospace manufacturing through innovative research and collaborative expertise.

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