Sustainable innovation

2 mins read

Richard Thompson, commercial director of Alvant, speaks to Manufacturing Management about the importance of sustainability and innovation in post-Covid manufacturing and the role the materials technology business is playing.

What challenges do you see manufacturers facing that are impeding their sustainability objectives?

Manufacturers across industry are facing escalating pressure to reduce weight to meet ever stringent market and legislative demands while being cost effective. The aerospace and automotive sectors are two prime examples of this, through trying to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions whilst maintaining reliability, lowering whole-life ownership costs and preventing spiralling costs.

What are the solutions?

There is no quick fix but now is the time for engineers to look beyond traditional technologies and embrace long-term change. This means lighter weight materials that enhance capability and offer a good value alternative to materials such as carbon and polymer composites, steel, titanium and aluminium. For instance, innovative materials such as AMCs provide sustainable solutions for parts including aeroplane landing gear, propellers, electric motors, car interiors - the list is as diverse as it is long.

Could you tell us a little about aluminium matrix composites (AMCs)?

Alvant uses a method known as Advanced Liquid Pressure Forming (ALPF) which brings together aluminium, which acts as the matrix, and a high-strength reinforcement fibre to create a high-performance Aluminium Matrix Composite material. Product manufacturers are becoming more aware of how AMCs can sometimes be a better alternative than other composite materials or unreinforced metals.

Alvant developed and refined AMCs during the years when high-tech industries were going through the honeymoon period with carbon composites. Nowadays, certain disadvantages with carbon composites and polymer composites are better understood.

What are their key advantages?

AMCs have higher transverse strength and stiffness, superior damage tolerance, and a higher thermal operating range. This means engineers and manufacturers can use AMCs for more durable lightweight components for harsh environments.

They also provide the strength and stiffness of legacy materials and up to 30 per cent less weight. This means highly loaded components made from traditional metals can be replaced by lightweight, low inertia parts without any increase in package size.

The production-readiness of AMCs is timely in the face of increasing commercial demand for strong but lighter parts across many forms of transportation, as well as industrial and consumer applications. It’s not just aerospace and automotive either; marine and consumer goods manufacturers are also looking for ways to increase product capabilities and performance while at the same time meeting ambitious goals for fuel efficiency and sustainability. It’s these conflicting challenges which make AMCs an attractive proposition.

What now for UK manufacturing against a post-COVID backdrop?

During the pandemic, we’ve seen the biggest emissions decline since the Second World War. These are extraordinary times. While zero emissions on planet earth is still perhaps a pipe dream, stakeholders have different expectations on businesses now. Sustainability is redefining itself in the Covid-19 era; it’s evolving from solely focusing on the sustainable materials, to also taking into account the entire product life cycle and the ability to reuse.

As we look at ways to revive the economy, we must use the past six months as an opportunity to prompt radical change and not ignore the fact that Covid-19 is a wake-up call, to ensure the UK becomes the leading global hub for technical innovation and sustainability.