UKRI fellowship scheme funds research into metal AM for electrical machines

October 15, 2021

Dr Nick Simpson of the University of Bristol will lead a comprehensive research programme into metal Additive Manufacturing for e-machines (Courtesy Dr Nick Simpson)

In late September, UK Science Minister Amanda Solloway announced a cash boost of £4.5 million to the University of Bristol. The investment, delivered through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)’s flagship Future Leaders Fellowships scheme, will enable scientists and researchers in Bristol and across the UK to fund vital equipment and researcher wages to help drive studies forward more quickly.

“I am delighted that UKRI is able to support the next generation of research and innovation leaders through our Future Leaders Fellowship programme,” stated Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, UKRI Chief Executive. “The new fellows announced today will have the support and freedom they need to pursue their research and innovation ideas, delivering new knowledge and understanding and tackling some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

Ninety-seven of the UK’s top researchers will be backed with £113 million to help bring their ideas from lab to market, and provide bold solutions to tackle major global issues ranging from climate change and chronic disease to hate speech.

“Ending our contribution to climate change will mean harnessing the talents of innovators across the UK, not least in the South West of England,” Solloway added. “I’m delighted that this fantastic work by researchers at the University of Bristol will help us take another step towards that goal, thanks to £4.5 million of government funding.”

The next generation of UK science leaders at the University of Bristol being backed today include Dr Nick Simpson, who will lead a comprehensive research programme into metal Additive Manufacturing for electrical machines.

Step changes in e-machine performance are central to the success of future More-Electric and All-Electric transport initiatives, and play a vital role in meeting the UK’s net-zero emission target by 2050. E-machine technology roadmaps from the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) and Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), however, seek continuous power-density of between 9 and 25 kW/kg by 2035, in stark contrast to the 2-5 kW/kg available today.

E-machine power-density is ultimately limited by the ability to dissipate internally generated losses, which manifest as heat, and the temperature rating of the electrical insulation system. The electrical conductors (windings) are often the dominant loss source and are conventionally formed from electrically insulated copper or aluminium conductors. Such conductors are manufactured using a drawing and insulation technique, which, aside from improvements in materials, has seen little change in the past century. Exploring alternative manufacturing methods could allow a reduction in losses, enhanced heat extraction and facilitate increased temperature ratings, ushering the necessary step changes in power-density and e-machine performance.

Currently, all AM research is being performed with CuCrZr and pure copper on Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion (PBF-LB) machines (Courtesy Dr Nick Simpson)

The design freedom offered by AM provides many sought-after opportunities to simultaneously reduce winding losses and packaging volume, improve thermal management and enable the use of high-temperature electrical insulation coatings. The design of these windings requires the development of new multi-physics design tools accounting for electromagnetic, thermo- and fluid- dynamics, mechanical and Design for AM (DfAM), of which establishing how to use build supports and post-processes to improve component surface quality and facilitate application of electrical insulation coatings is an important aspect. To this end, Dr Simpson has conducted initial studies in collaboration with academic and industrial partners focusing on shaped profile windings which have demonstrated the potential benefits of metal AM in e-machines and the drastic expansion of design possibilities to be explored.

Dr Simpson intends to expand on this initial work through the new fellowship, which will provide flexible funding over a four and three-year term to support The Electrical Machine Works, a comprehensive research programme reminiscent of a skunk works project. This will draw together UK industry and academic expertise in AM, material science and multi-physics e-machine design to establish an internationally leading platform in this important emerging field.

It is intended that the fellowship and associated platform, The Electrical Machine Works, will facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration with both industry and academia, catalysing high-quality academic outputs disseminated through appropriate conference and journal publications, and the generation of intellectual property (IP), helping to keep the UK competitive in power electronics machines and drives – perhaps even at the forefront.

If successful, in time, The Electrical Machine Works may become a centre of excellence for AM in e-machines, contributing to a future skills and people pipeline and aiding in the raising of technology readiness levels in line with national priorities as expressed by the UK’s Industrial Strategy, Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Driving the Electric Revolution (DER) and Future Flight (FF) initiatives.

Currently, all research is being performed with CuCrZr and pure copper on Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion (PBF-LB) machines, but is intended to expand to include AlSiMg and pure aluminium, with later investigations planned into the suitability of Binder Jetting (BJT) and photopolymerisation.

The government has committed over £900 million to its Future Leader Fellowship initiative over three years. The projects being backed today will be an important part of the government’s ambition to cement the UK’s status as a global leader in science, research and innovation, as set out through the publication of the Innovation Strategy in July.

Today’s funding forms part of the government’s commitment to increase public spending in R&D by £22 billion by 2024 to 2025, putting the UK on track to reach 2.4% of GDP being spent on R&D across the UK economy by 2027.

Solloway concluded, “We are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better from COVID-19, empowering our scientific leaders of tomorrow to drive forward game-changing research and helping to secure the UK’s status as a global science superpower.”

In the latest issue of Metal AM magazine

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Extensive AM industry news coverage, as well as the following exclusive deep-dive articles:

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  • Consolidation, competition, and the cost of certification: Insight from New York’s AM Strategies 2024
  • Scandium’s impact on the Additive Manufacturing of aluminium alloys
  • AM for medical implants: An analysis of the impact of powder reuse in Powder Bed Fusion

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