Advanced Forming Research CentreAFRC using rotary friction welding to reduce materials wastage and production time across UK manufacturing

The University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) is exploring innovative ways to reduce materials wastage and production time across UK manufacturing, using rotary friction welding.

Two rotary friction welding machines, the biggest of their kind in any UK research centre, are bringing a new capability to the centre.

A welding process that benefits from enhanced integrity of materials, rotary friction welding is fast and highly energy efficient.  

The AFRC’s engineers and technicians will integrate this new capability with other advanced manufacturing techniques used at the centre, with big implications for industry.

It’s currently used across niche manufacturing areas within the aerospace and oil and gas sectors.  

The AFRC, which is part of the UK’s High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult, is, however, seeking to change this and explore wider opportunities for rotary friction welding across various applications.

Originally housed in the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry; also part of the HVM Catapult network, the 125 and 300 tonne machines, represent an investment in the region of £500K. They will provide efficient, low cost solutions for firms requiring high integrity manufacturing processes in sectors, such as aerospace, automotive and oil and gas.

The centre has already received significant interest in its new rotary friction welding capability from within its network.

One of the initial projects using the new equipment will see rotary friction welding used alongside other capabilities at the centre to develop a high performance, high integrity component for aerospace applications.

This combination of highly efficient manufacturing techniques will significantly reduce materials wastage and production time.

Dr Laurie da Silva, Research Associate at the AFRC, who is leading the development of this new capability, explains:

Welding is often regarded in the manufacturing industry as an easy place for a material to fail.  This, however, isn’t the case for rotary friction welding, instead it generates a very strong, high integrity joint for metallic materials.

“We’re working with our members and partners on an industrial research programme that will demonstrate the considerable potential of this technology.

“Combining it with manufacturing techniques, such as flow forming, rotary forging and radial forging, we’re aiming to create new hybrid near net shape manufacturing processes for similar and dissimilar alloys.

“The process is generating lots of interest among our members and partners and presents significant opportunities for our customers.”

Commenting further, Dr Michael Ward, Research Director at the AFRC, said: “The move of this capability from the MTC is a strong indicator of the strength of the relationships between the seven centres in the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. Ourselves and the MTC identified the positive impact moving the machines to the AFRC would have on UK industry in terms of combining this technology with our existing expertise in materials integrity.

Over time this unique combination will provide more manufacturing businesses in differing sectors with the support they need in order to embrace rotary friction welding with a view to overcoming some of the challenges they face.”

Dick Elsy, CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult commented: “The relationship between the Centres that make up the High Value Manufacturing Catapult gives us the opportunity to move vital equipment between locations to where it is most needed.  That is not just good news for the businesses that will use it, it is good news for the taxpayer who can be confident that we are working to get the very best value from their investment in the HVM Catapult.”