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Research projects:
Grand Challenge 2.3

Manufacturing technologies for flexibility and customisation

Aim: Investigate enabling technologies for the flexible manufacture of high-value electrical machines.

Current production of electrical machines occupies two extremes of scale: the ubiquitous low-cost, mass-produced machines that can be found from consumer goods to automotive and industrial automation; and bespoke and highly specialised machines, which do not lend themselves to automation, and thus are costly to produce. However, it is proposed that this gulf between mass-produced machines and bespoke machines, illustrated in Figure 1, can be bridged by imbuing manufacturing systems with greater intelligence to allow flexible manufacture of more product variants.

This flexible automated production would have the benefit of reducing manufacturing costs whilst also improving on quality, thereby allowing manufacturers to capitalise on the increasing demand with the drive towards electrification to meet the UK’s goal to be carbon neutral by the year 2050.

Chart of volume against variants, displaying mass production, flexible manufacturing and bespoke manufacturing.
Figure 1: Mass production versus flexible and bespoke manufacturing. With increased intelligence, mass production can offer more product variants through mass-customisation; whist flexible manufacturing systems can accommodate further variants to the point of batch sizes of one.

The increased intelligence in manufacturing systems is one of the technological advancements driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Many 4IR exemplars focus on mass customisation, whereby customers choose between defined options to arrive at an item mass-produced to their taste. However, this does not allow the high degree of variation needed to produce the high-value electrical machines of the future.

Grand Challenge 2.3 (GC 2.3) will therefore focus on the manufacturing technologies required for the flexible production of high-value electrical machines, such as robotic coil winding. This builds on the AMRC’s experience of robotics as flexible and reconfigurable manufacturing systems, as illustrated in Figure 2, and supported by research on model-based definition and discrete event simulation to understand the downstream effects of design changes. 

GC 2.3 will also explore technologies that open new domains to designers, such as the use of remote laser cutting to customise each layer within a laminated core without compromising production time, and thus cost, when compared to conventional stamping.

Current work on GC 2.3 is focusing on the design and procurement of a robotic winding cell and remote laser cutting system.

Figure 2: Reconfigurable factory demonstrator at the AMRC Factory 2050 facility, designed to allow flexible manufacture through rapid changeover of the physical layout and robot programs.

For more information on this project, contact Dr Lloyd Tinkler at the AMRC.