AMRC creates model which could lead to an industrial icon for Sheffield

Steve Mehdi (left) and business partner Paul Blackburn (Mehdi Sculptures Ltd) with the AMRC's modelThe University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has created a two metre model which could one day be made into a landmark sculpture for the Sheffield city region.

The Man of Steel is the work of sculptor Steve Mehdi, and was originally created as a 30cm bronze figure. It is hoped the design could pay tribute to South Yorkshire's long history of steel and coal industries, while also reflecting the region's 21st century strengths in advanced manufacturing and metals technology.

"Man of Steel was inspired by the men and women I worked with in engineering in Sheffield, and the generations of people who worked in steel and coal across the region," says Mehdi. "The inspiration for a landmark version of the sculpture came from local people who first saw the sculpture in an exhibition of my work and said 'This could be our Angel of the North'."

If plans are realised, the 38 metre sculpture would feature a 20 metre stainless steel figure sat on an 18 metre coal-black column. This potential landmark could one day overlook the M1 motorway from a former landfill site a few miles north of the AMRC campus on the Advanced Manufacturing Park.

The project has received strong support from local businesses and universities. Mehdi was introduced to the AMRC for help with producing a large model of the Man of Steel to raise awareness of the project.

"This project honours the past and embraces the future, bringing together the heritage of the old industries and signposting the new technologies of the Sheffield city region," Mehdi says. "These rapid developments in design technology and manufacture are led by the University of Sheffield AMRC in Rotherham, so I am delighted that the AMRC has used its expertise to create this version of the Man of Steel."

John Halfpenny, manufacturing engineer at the AMRC with Boeing Composite Centre, managed production of the model Man of Steel. "This was a totally different project to our usual work in the Composite Centre – it's nothing like what we've done before," Halfpenny says. "But it's good to work on a project that's potentially going to be in Sheffield for the next 200 years."

The model is made from polyurethane resin board, a material normally used for creating prototypes and models of automotive and aerospace structures. This was sculpted on the Composite Centre's CMS five-axis machining centre, using cutting tools from Sheffield-based Technicut.

Mehdi's original small sculpture was turned into a computer model. Professor Marcos Rodrigues and Mariza Kormann in the Geometric Modelling and Pattern Recognition Group at Sheffield Hallam University used their patented 3D laser scanning technology to create a three-dimensional model, containing five million data points.

It was found that the technique that works best was a single line laser scanner, allowing control of the angle of incident light thus reducing noise levels. Halfpenny then converted this data into the toolpath instructions that the computer-controlled machining centre needed to cut the model board to the precise shape.

"The scanning data were good and well put together, so it was a simple matter to scale that up," Halfpenny says. "We had to use the raw data to get all the surface detail, and manipulate that to produce the toolpaths. Working with the raw data from a scanned model wasn't something I'd done before, and I did learn a lot which we can now apply to other projects."

Halfpenny also had to work out how the complex human figure could best be machined. The original plan was to create the entire figure in one or two parts, but further modelling showed that this would be impractical.

Man of Steel torso taking shape"It would have been very difficult to machine in one because of the complex shape of the sculpture – we'd have problems holding it in the machine because everything is contoured, and it would require a lot of undercuts," says Halfpenny. "For example, there's no way we could have cut under his chin unless we cut his head off."

Splitting the figure into many smaller parts also meant that the work could be scheduled in between commercial research work at the Composite Centre. The final figure was produced in eight parts over several months.

The assembled model will now be given a stainless metal coating, and mounted on a two metre column made by Sheffield-based Tool and Steel Products.

The finished model will be on show at the AMRC during the Global Manufacturing Festival in April, which commemorates the centenary of stainless steel's discovery by Sheffield metallurgist Harry Brearley. It will also be exhibited at the Magna Science Centre in Rotherham and Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield.

The Man of Steel model will also play an important role in promoting education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). "Education experts across the region are working with the Man of Steel project team to develop curriculum material across all key stages," Mehdi says. "It will appear at various exhibitions throughout the year, promoting our industrial heritage, the new technologies and STEM education for the future.”

Additional information

The University of Sheffield

With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield was named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards 2011 for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, and 2007).

These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world. The University’s research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.


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Amy Stone
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The University of Sheffield
0114 222 1046