Manufacturing and Robotics

Our research seeks to increase resource efficiency, flexibility and competitiveness of UK manufacturing through the development of integrated system modelling, simulation and optimization tools, advanced process monitoring & automation, reconfigurable systems and smart multifunctional materials. We are also developing enabling technologies for fully autonomous cooperative robots.

Case Study:

Water-Based Reconfigurable Robot Could Help in Search & Rescue Missions

WaterRobotWebResearchers from ACSE have created an aquatic robot which could be used during underwater search and rescue operations. The study looks at a set of robotic modules that can be assembled into robots of arbitrary shape. This allows robots to be customised to meet the changing demands of their task.

Each module is a cube and has four micro pumps which allow it to move around independently in the water. When modules are joined together, they can draw in fluid from each other, as well as the environment. The routing of the fluid through the network of modules causes the robot to move. The more modules in the network, the more precisely the robot moves, and the better it copes with faults. This new concept is termed Modular Hydraulic Propulsion (MHP).

Six prototype modules of an MHP robot were constructed, which float on the surface of water. The researchers set the robot a task – to detect and move towards a light source. The robots can solve this task reliably without having a central brain. Rather, each module takes its own decisions independently, and only needs a few bytes of sensor information to do so. The modules could split up and search for survivors more quickly and recombine to manipulate the environment, for example, to open up a passageway.

Right-First-Time Friction Stir Welding (FSW) of Materials

Image: Friction Stir Welding

In 1996, the late Professor Mike Sellars (MSE) and Professor Derek Linkens (ACSE) had the vision of allying Systems Engineering principles and Metallurgical Science to realise what they called then "right-first-time" production; a framework that allows prediction of materials properties using sophisticated models which would then be exploited to produce materials to specifications.

In 2008, using this concept, Professor Mahdi Mahfouf and Dr George Panoutsos (ACSE) teamed up with Engineers from TWI Ltd (the inventors of FSW process) in order to investigate the FSW process with the aim of realising, for the first time, Right First-Time FSW of Aluminium alloys.

The result is a new computer system for FSW. The new system allows to set-up the design specifications in terms of tensile strength, elongation and microstructure as this was not previously possible. TWI Ltd use the system for several industrial clients in the aerospace manufacturing sector including Embraer, BAE-Systems, and Boeing, as well as in popular consumer products such as the Apple iMac and Bang & Olufsen speakers. The use of this technology reduces the required experimental trials, providing a materials and cost savings of 25% and a minimum time-saving of 50%.