A year on from its formation, the National Surface Engineering Centre, Nasurf, has taken more than 600 helpline calls and is moving slowly towards being self-financing.
Nasurf was set up on 19 March last year, with financial support from the Department of Trade and Industry on a five-year sliding scale.
Its remit is to help industry fully exploit the benefits achievable through the use of surface engineering. Colin Gostelow, a project manager at Nasurf, gave a presentation as part of Set and Small Firms day.
Nasurf is run through the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency’s Structural Materials Centre, and is supported by BT and the University of Hull’s Research Centre for Surface Engineering. It has nine full time staff.
Gostelow says surface engineering is fundamental to every product produced by industry, from bandages to galvanised steel in cars. It may create a specific surface effect in its own right or enhance the performance of the material beneath the coating. It can protect, lubricate or decorate a surface by altering the chemical or physical properties of the surface.
It is estimated surface engineering produces more than £3.5bn for the economy – 1% of UK manufacturing output.
Dr David Durford, helpline manager, said one study being undertaken has looked at producing non-toxic anti-fouling materials to protect ships from marine organisms. One suggested solution involves camouflaging the surface to be protected, through the use of water-absorbent polymeric materials.
Another method exploits the presence of naturally occurring toxic elements in the ocean. Using a coating which selectively removes metal ions from their dissolved complexes within the sea, the local concentration, at the coating surface of these selected metals, can be increased to a level at which fouling does not occur – without damaging the natural balance of the sea.
`We are not a high-technology research institute but a practical networking centre,’ says Gostelow. He says that Nasurf is nevertheless much more than just a hotline.
A Surface Engineering Design Guide, produced in association with the Institute of Materials, will be available at the end of the month.
Nasurf is running regional training and education programmes and seminars across the country. It has been working closely with the ImechE and would also like to begin working with the Institution of Civil Engineers and Institution of Electrical Engineers.
The cost of general membership to Nasurf is on a sliding scale, depending on the size of the company, with prices ranging from £250 to £1,000.
Durnford admits that it had not reached its target of at least 120 members in the first year.
`Membership is nowhere near the level we anticipated,’ he says, blaming the shortfall on small and medium sized enterprises natural reluctance to pay for `yet another service’.
For information on Nasurf phone 01252 395001.
By Anthony Gould