7-Nov-2022 Source: Yeovil
Offering a unique environment in which talent, creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation within SMEs can flourish, the iAero Centre in Yeovil has proven to be the perfect setting for a new five-way collaboration between industry, education and local government.
The announcement of a 5 year joint funded agreement sees the team behind the £10m iAero project, led by Somerset County Council, bring together Leonardo UK, Markforged Inc, Yeovil College and Mark3D UK Limited to open and fully support a state-of-the-art additive manufacturing centre.
Austin Chick, Head of iAero, explains “one of the main aims of iAero is to provide an environment where new products and high value design and engineering solutions can be developed in collaboration with key industrial partners. Engineers from all over the West of England will be able to use this first-class facility to further develop ground breaking ideas and turn them into reality.”
Located on land owned by Leonardo and situated next to its UK end-to-end helicopter facility, the ‘Home of British Helicopters’, the new iAero Innovation Centre in Somerset provides a purpose-built 2,398m² research, design and innovation facility to support the growing aerospace sector in the region. As an anchor tenant and collaboration partner, Leonardo is currently utilising the centre with a number of projects already planned for the new capability.
Simon Stacey of the Research & Innovation Team at Leonardo Helicopters UK stated, “Leonardo has recently won a number of prestigious VTOL projects. These will benefit from the technology we now have available to us, we will be able to think ‘outside the box’ in the development of new ideas across many areas, resulting in better overall solutions for our customers and those of our partners.”
Cllr Val Keitch, Executive Member for Local Government Reorganisation and Prosperity at Somerset County Council, said: “The progress at iAero since it opened earlier this year shows the value and strength of our delivery partnerships. Since its inception, a key aim of the iAero project has been to deliver innovation through collaboration. That is exactly what this project does. It brings together local government, industry, and academia to deliver the very latest in innovative manufacturing capability, which will benefit local businesses and help up-skill the future workforce.”
The centre will be equipped with the full portfolio of 3D printers available from Markforged, including its newest large format FX20 printer alongside its range of highly advanced polymers such as ULTEM®, composite materials such as carbon fibre and an expanding range of engineering metals such as tool steels, Copper and Inconel. Each printer is part of Markforged’s cloud-connected Digital Forge platform, powered by its award-winning Eiger software to control fleet management, provide online part verification with inspection reports and enable desk-based accreditation via the Markforged University. For those applications with strict security protocols, there will be secure offline access too. Leonardo also plans to begin testing and certifying parts using the new materials recently announced by Markforged for flight, through its Materials Laboratory and Structural & Mechanical Test Centre at Leonardo in Yeovil.
In the near future, it may even be possible that parts printed in stainless steel with a honeycombed infill will replace machined aluminium components in certain applications. Markforged UK Territory Manager, Kevin Murphy states, “The joint investment we see here today is further proof that the Aerospace and Defence industry in the South West of England is buoyant and ready to develop new products to support the world market.” He also adds, “Markforged is delighted to be involved with this project and we look forward to helping both today’s engineers and the engineers of the future learn how additive manufacturing can turn ideas in to reality.”
As a further part of its commitment to the local economy, the iAero project also enables students from co-investor Yeovil College to use the facility. Students will be able to work side by side with people from industry, gaining valuable contextual experience in project related applications. Students can also take advantage of the Markforged University Programme adding online courses in additive manufacturing to their list of qualifications and skills. As a partner of Leonardo, the Yeovil College team consider that understanding additive manufacturing solutions within practical scenarios is an invaluable experience for today’s young engineers.
According to Alex Clancy, Assistant Principal and Employer Engagement Director for Yeovil College, “Many of the apprentices we teach here are from Leonardo and we work very closely with them as a business. We are constantly taking feedback from them and working to improve student learning. Yeovil College is very pleased to be involved with this initiative and my colleagues are excited to see the benefits over the coming months. Although Yeovil College already has courses running in additive technology this will take it to another level for us, and students will gain access to technology which we once thought was out of our budget.”
Mark 3D, the UK’s Markforged expert, is co-investing in the support to this high-tech additive manufacturing system. A full support package to include training and advice on optimum use of the system will be provided as well as technically supporting the equipment over the agreement period.
“We expect this equipment to be utilised fully and it is important that the materials, consumables and spares are immediately available to the team. Our role is to facilitate a smooth running environment, provide advice with manufacturing decisions during the design process and help people in their learning phase,” says Ian Weston, MD at Mark3D UK Limited. He also adds, “additive is a really exciting place to be at the moment. This system offers the ability to design and manufacture in ways not possible a few years ago. This will enable companies in the region to upskill and become more competitive in their respective specialisms.”
Our investment here at iAero is a fundamental part of our business strategy moving forwards and we are delighted to be involved’.
Open days are planned to view and experience the additive manufacturing capability. Dates will be issued in due course.