Postgraduate research opportunities

Flow Forming of Materials for Aerostructures with Boeing

This project will enable the adoption of flow forming either by Boeing, or by a supply chain partner, for the production of aerospace components.

Number of places



Home fee, Stipend


15 August 2019


30 December 2019


4 years


Applications are welcome from all who possess or are about to obtain a first class or 2.1 BEng (Hons), MEng or MSc degree, or equivalent EU/International qualification, in a relevant discipline.

Applications from Home, Rest of UK and EU students will receive funding of the home fee and stipend.

International Students are welcome to apply but should be aware of the additional funding requirements and will have to provide evidence that they can pay the difference in fees of circa £16k per annum.

Find out more about this exciting PhD opportunity by clicking through the tabs above.

Individuals interested in this project should email Dr Dorothy Evans at, and attach your most up-to-date cv.

Project Details

Are you looking to gain direct industrial experience with Boeing, whilst developing your specialist research area of interest?

Flow forming is a manufacturing technique whereby a hollow metal blank (pre-from) is mounted onto a rotating mandrel and the material is made to flow axially along the mandrel by the action of one or more rollers. The process has numerous known advantages including reduced material usage and lower cost in comparison to alternative manufacturing routes such as machining, extrusion and deep drawing.

However, adoption of flow forming by the aerospace industry is limited, primarily due to lack on knowledge of how aerospace grade materials respond in the process and applicability for complex geometries and critical components.

Boeing is the world's largest aerospace company and leading manufacturer of commercial jetliners, defence, space and security systems, and service provider of aftermarket support. This near net shape manufacturing technique, if adopted by Boeing, and/or their supply chain, could allow for the production of dimensionally accurate near net shaped hollow components at a much lower cost and reduced lead time. Such shaped components are used in landing gear, hydraulic reservoirs and actuator systems. Flow forming could provide an alternative manufacturing process for these critical structural components which currently have a long lead-time, poor material utilisation (buy to fly ratio) and require extensive machining to achieve the final shape.

This PhD study will focus on generating a detailed understanding of key aspects of flow forming; the suitability of various aerospace grade materials for flow forming, identification of component features suitable for manufacture by flow forming, geometries that can be achieved using these materials during forming, the formability limits and the characterisation of parts produced by flow forming.

The intention of this project is to enable the adoption of flow forming either by Boeing, or by a supply chain partner, for the production of aerospace components.


Research Challenge

CNC-based flow forming is a manufacturing technology popular in countries, such as China, America and throughout Europe; it can be used in a number of sectors including nuclear, oil and gas and medical instruments amongst others, but notably not so much particularly in relation to aerospace. Flow forming sees the incremental reduction of the wall thickness of a cylindrical preform, stretching and extruding it out through the application of forming rollers which flow the material along a mandrel. It’s a highly controlled process that allows for the creation of long cylinder components with varying wall thicknesses and complex geometries.


Presently within aerospace manufacturing, there is opportunity to use flow forming to manufacture components such as control rods, hydraulic cylinders and hollow tubular sections. Significant benefits can also be achieved through adoption of the process to produce critical, high value components such as engine shafts and landing gear components, of which the majority are manufactured from solid forged billets. However, adoption of flow forming by the aerospace industry is limited, primarily due to lack on detailed understanding on how aerospace grade materials respond to the process, and the applicability of the technique for complex geometries and critical components.


This PhD study will address several key areas of knowledge on flow forming, which are not currently available and thereby pose a barrier to the adoption of flow forming as a manufacturing process for aerospace manufacturers:

  • The study will assess and demonstrate which aerospace grade materials are suitable for flow forming.
  • The study will characterise the geometric features and aerospace part geometries which are suitable for flow forming.
  • Optimum starting stock of materials for flow forming. This could be in order to achieve the required deformation and final microstructure, but must also consider cost implications and the current product form that particular alloys are available in.
  • Geometries that can be achieved with the identified aerospace grade materials during flow forming, defining the formability limits. This could include the use of computer modelling.
  • Develop and implement in process monitoring techniques and the implementation of industry 4 in flow forming and demonstrating how this can be used to negate the use of extensive testing post forming.
  • Characterisation of parts produced by flow forming in terms of mechanical properties, microstructural and residual stress characterisation. This will also consider heat treatments that will be required post forming. Then comparison to alternative more traditional manufacturing methods.
  • Economic cost analysis of flow forming compared to parts produced by alternative, more traditional manufacturing methods.

Funding Details

This fully-funded industrial PhD opportunity will cover Home and EU Fees and Stipend.

We will accept applications from international students who can confirm in their email application that they are able to pay the difference between the Home and International fees (approximately £16,000 per annum). If you are unable to cover this cost the application will be rejected.

Further information

Project aims & objectives, outcomes, deliverables with methodology, work plan / timescales

The PhD will be conducted using a combination of empirical and theoretical research and experimentation techniques. This will involve utilising equipment and expertise from across the collaborating partners.

The work will aim to complete within 4 years whereby along with the doctoral thesis, an industrial guide to the flow forming process will be delivered to Boeing upon completion detailing critical areas of the research findings such as; the review of aerospace parts for flow forming, the results of the flow forming trials, alloy design tables for the different alloys identified, results of the formed part characterisation tests and the economic assessment. Chapters such as the literature review will be submitted as separate documents before the completion of the four years and may be used to form separate journal and conference submissions where appropriate.


Alignment with the Scottish & UK Governments’ manufacturing strategy

This research is directly aligned with the strategic aims of Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Manufacturing advisory service, which will help to maintain future Scottish manufacturing competitiveness by supporting innovation and the adoption of new processes and technology. Scottish businesses will be able to take advantage of this new opportunity to increase productivity and boost competitiveness and could lead to establishment of a Boeing supplier network within Scotland.

This research work also aligns with Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Aerospace Technology Institute’s (ATI) strategic technology themes of aerostructures for the future, UK manufacturing competitiveness and development of near net shape manufacturing technology.


Evidence of the strategic gap / industry-driven demand

Boeing require close to near net parts with minimal post processing in a minimal lead-time. Flow forming is able to produce parts to these requirements but has not been widely adopted by Boeing or their supply chain. Potential candidate parts are typically sourced by large oversize die forgings for example which have a long lead time, the size of press required means that few suppliers are able to produce these parts and they require a lot of post machining so have poor material utilisation (i.e. low buy to fly).

Added value / industry-driven need for industry-academic collaboration with clear industry commitment

Boeing have a need to reduce lead-time and improve material utilisation in order to remain competitive. In order to do this new technologies are required such as the use of flow forming on aerospace grade materials. Boeing have shown commitment working with academia through longstanding working relationships at the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and are committed to supporting a PHD project working on this subject.

Research environment for delivery of the project (e.g. supervision; facilities)

The research activities for this industrial doctorate will be primarily carried out at the University’s AFRC site, utilising the centre’s existing flow forming equipment as well as extensive measurement and material characterisation capabilities.

The student would also collaborate directly with the University of Strathclyde’s Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering department, and in particular the expertise located within the Advanced Materials Research Laboratory (AMRL). It is anticipated that the student will also collaborate with external experts on downstream manufacturing operations and advanced materials located within the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and the University of Sheffield’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering throughout the study.

The student would also have the opportunity to work with Boeing subject matter experts in Sheffield and the US to enable appropriate knowledge transfer to and from the company.


Contact us

How to apply

If you are interested in this brilliant opportunity and wish to apply, please send your CV in for the attention of Dr Dorothy Evans to