Britain fritters high-speed lead

Companies are not taking advantage of research that is four years ahead of the Japanese, says professor

By David Fowler

Britain has a four-year lead over Japan in the race to design high-speed manufacturing machinery but industry is not exploiting the technology, an Institution of Mechanical Engineers’ conference was told last week.

Advances in mechatronics and independent drives employing fluid power and electronics arising from 13 years of academic/industry Link research programmes are ready to transform the design of machinery for industry. But outside those firms directly involved in the research, industry has shown little enthusiasm.

Aston University vice-chancellor Professor Mike Wright called for additional research to make the advances more useful to designers. `The Link scheme has been phenomenal value for money,’ said Wright. Increases of 100% in operating speeds and reductions of 50% in changeover times and downtime had been achieved.

`The UK is three to four years ahead of anything the Japanese have thought of in this area. The problem is transferring the technology in time,’ he added. With a few exceptions, there was a `huge time lag’ between the technology becoming available and it being taken up.

A Machinery Technology Centre at the Amtri research institute in Macclesfield, Cheshire, was acting as a `gallery’ for the technology.

Wright added: `What is now needed is a mechanism to allow non-expert designers to apply some of these technologies. Many of the advances are essentially mathematical. It’s quite unreasonable to expect the average designer to have the facility to apply them.’

Some computer software has been developed, notably by the University of Bath, as a design tool based on the new advances.

`We need a full-blown Government initiative to package the research in an accessible form,’ said Wright.