THE rapid evolution of manufacturing makes the role of metrology – the science of measurement – more vital than ever, as firms demand greater accuracy and efficiency in their increasingly complex and automated production processes. A new £40 million research centre based at the University of Huddersfield will play a crucial role in what has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The seven-year Future Metrology Hub, which receives £10 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, with extra funding from universities and business partners, was officially launched at an event attended by more than 130 scientists, engineers, academics and industrialists from around the UK.
They heard a sequence of talks from key figures, including the Hub’s Director, Professor Dame Xiangqian (Jane) Jiang, who provided an overview of its work. She said that metrology is critical to modern manufacturing and pledged that the technology she and her colleagues develop in the lab – such as sensors and artificial intelligence control systems – would be geared up for use in the real world of industry.
Professor Jiang stressed the need for inter-disciplinary collaboration across a wide range of sectors. “That is what the Hub is all about,” she said, and added that its goal was a transformation in UK manufacturing performance.
The University of Huddersfield – home to a world-renowned Centre for Precision Technologies – is at the centre of the Future Metrology Hub. Its “spokes” are at the universities of Sheffield, Bath and Loughborough, which will contribute research in specialised areas.
The National Physical Laboratory, which has its regional base at the University of Huddersfield, is also a collaborator, and there are 29 industrial partners, including leading firms such as Rolls-Royce, Jaguar Land Rover, GKN Aerospace, BAE Systems, Siemens, Reliance Precision and Carl Zeiss, all represented at the launch.
Another key partner is the UK-based multi-national Renishaw, which has collaborated with the University of Huddersfield for a quarter of a century. Its Group Engineering Director, Professor Geoff McFarland, gave the keynote address at the launch day.
He described the trajectory of modern manufacturing, with its “intelligent factories with zero waste and optimal efficiency using automated processes”. Metrology was crucial to this, said Professor McFarland, describing the science as “one of our best manufacturing tools”, and it needed to have a presence on the shop floor.
Professor McFarland provided a series of case studies, showing metrology in action in a range of sectors, including automotive, aerospace, power generation, healthcare and consumer products.
He spoke about the dramatic drop in the expected life cycle of products, which meant metrology was becoming even more important, with production geared to lower volumes and greater flexibility.
Renishaw has more than 1,500 patents and patents pending, said Professor McFarland. “But we don’t have all the answers and there are more and more questions. And that is why we are involved with this wonderful Hub.”
However, the skillset required of modern metrologists was incredibly rare, and traditional learning on the job is no longer viable in complex modern factories. Therefore, the training of metrologists would be a vital role for the new Hub, said the Professor.
After his keynote address, and the overview from Professor Jiang, the audience at the launch event heard from Dr Katie Daniel, who heads the Manufacturing the Future Theme for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. She said that the portfolio of research hubs was a flagship investment for the EPSRC, which was involved in drawing up the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy.