A model for future skills
Recent symposium by Esi
Skills and the relevant experience of modellers were recurrent themes at the recent ESI symposium, ‘Casting simulation: application and advances’, and it was fitting therefore that the location was the University of Birmingham’s School of Metallurgy and Materials.
Marco Aloe, casting product manager, outlining about some of ESI’s newest developments, spoke of the pressures that are on manufacturers now – to increase the number of models that are produced each with increased complexity of design, whilst manufacturing times and costs are constantly being reduced. There are also the somewhat conflicting pressures to reduce weight and also improve safety that must also be considered.
Innovation is now vital, he noted, and this can be assisted by simulation, to model all parts of the process, including material development, and much of ESI’s focus now is on predicting microstructure and mechanical properties for alloys undergoing different manufacturing processes – termed ‘end to end virtual prototyping’.
The idea of innovation being vital to a modern manufacturing economy was echoed by Professor Roger Reed, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Director of Research, citing the USA’s ‘Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’ who, in 2011 launched a program on open manufacturing:
‘DARPA is considering a program to reduce barriers to innovation, speed and affordability of manufactured components.
1. Design for Manufacturability Analysis, Synthesis and Manufacturing Process Selection Tools
2. Rapid Manufacturing Processes, Process Controls, Process Models and Simulations’
This programme is aimed at tackling the US’s dramatic recent reduction in manufacturing capability, Fig 1, the issues being ‘the high cost and long lead times associated with custom parts, difficulty in introducing new technology into service and barriers to entry for (small business) manufacturing innovators.’ref 1 Sound familiar?
In fact the same approach is important to all manufacturing nations; ‘modelling of manufacturing processes and the consequent materials response has become an essential technology for enabling rapid, cost-effective engineering decision making. Traditional techniques reliant on physical trials are no longer compatible with today''s product performance requirements, reduced product introduction lead times, high cost of raw materials and need to reduce product lifecycle cost.’ref 2.
Prof Read noted that simulation and modelling are easier now as the tools have become more powerful, hardware and software are now available at lower cost plus more reliable data is available. However modellers need now to consider ‘manufacturability’ as there is now a move towards integrated manufacturing which includes design and material development. He also noted the importance of ‘matching the potential of modelling to the benefit to be realised, not wasting time and money’.
This was also a point echoed by Paul Tennant of Rolls Royce who, during his presentation, noted that a large part of his job now is to decide what to model. The company can be tempted to model everything but the skill comes in deciding where benefits can be derived though modelling. These benefits can be very significant and Paul cited one example, where modelling of the gating system for one part had led to savings in material costs of £7M.
Ian Connor and Adam Robertson of Selex Galileo too spoke about how modelling of one of their components and consequent redesign of the running and feeding of the part had reduced the occurrence of random but frequent shrinkage system to the point that they were now achieving 0% scrap, reduced from almost 30% last year.
Prof Read also stressed the important role that colleges and universities will play in ensuring that there is a supply of suitably educated modellers for industry to draw on.
The 2009 report ‘The future of UK manufacturing’3 which reviewed the state of UK manufacturing and the effect of the 2008 global recession, noted the importance of ‘Protecting what is now a scarce resource. ‘While the downturn is obviously causing job losses in all sectors, skilled manufacturing workers are now a scarce resource in the UK. As a result, many employers are going to greater lengths than in the past to hold on to skilled manufacturing staff through the current recession, because they know they will struggle to replace such expertise when the upturn comes. In a recent study by the EEF employers’ federation, two-thirds of respondents said they either have already explored, or intend to explore shortened working hours and wage freezes as an alternative to redundancies. Where redundancies are unavoidable, we see some employers preferring to agree early retirement with some workers, rather than make highly experienced employees redundant who will still be of working age and essential to the business when the recovery comes’.
Indeed a number of the speakers spoke about the importance of experience and knowledge in order to be able to effectively use the powerful simulation and modelling tools that are now available to optimise the casting design and quality, while reducing costs.
This will be familiar to many. The castings industry is only too aware that replacing skilled and experienced workers is becoming an increasing challenge. Those skills are gradually being lost through retirement and although there does now seem to be an acknowledgement that manufacturing is important to the economy, and can also offer a rewarding career, it will take many years for those apprentices who are now being taken on to build up their knowledge and broad experience. Initiatives such as the foundation degree in Casting Technology were developed with just these thoughts in mind but we need good calibre apprentices and young graduates to be attracted into the industry and then to invest in their education to the point that they can be the innovators, decision makers and problem solvers the industry needs.
1 Presentation on Open Manufacturing, Dr. Leo Christodoulou, Director, DSO. www.darpa.mil/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=2147483664
2 Partnership for research in simulation and manufacturing and materials, University of Birmingham, www.prism2.org
3 The future of UK manufacturing: Reports of its death are greatly exaggerated, Observations, analysis and recommendations, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Pub April 2009