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Investigation into in-line process monitoring for improved quality assurance in electron beam powder bed additive manufacture (EBPBAM) - funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation (NSIRC187 PhD Studentship)


Applications accepted all year round Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project


Electron beam powder bed additive manufacture is being explored widely for the production of aeroengine components. It offers great advantages in terms of being able to build components with complex internal structures in high temperature alloys. However, there are few ways of verifying that a machine is ready for manufacture other than attempting to build the part itself. Consequently, it is not the process that is being inspected, and there is a high reliance on non-destructive testing of parts to ensure they are fit for purpose.

Project Outline

Electron beam additive manufacturing (AM) is a growing technology and is favoured for titanium parts over the more mature laser based AM processes – for every new EB welding machine there are two or three EB AM machines sold. A lengthy/labour intensive calibration procedure must be followed prior to each build to negate build-to-build geometry variations; this is arduous and avoided by users, resulting in undue costs. It should be noted that an EB AM build once started can last ~120 hours and if interrupted or incorrect generates only scrap. The intent is that in-process inspection technology could replace/automate this time consuming/labour intensive calibration, assuring consistent beam quality across the build area, taking only a few minutes to automatically assure build quality. This PhD will focus on the correlation between beam measurements, sensors and build performance, requiring many practical experiments and much data assessment. The first year will also include elements of prototype equipment refinement.

One of the problems for manufacturers seeking to deploy electron beam powder bed additive manufacturing (AM) has been that the machine readiness for manufacture can only be assessed by trying to build the product; this is wasteful, time consuming and costly. It requires close inspection of parts and an inspection procedure that can fully verify that the component is fit for purpose. Previous work within NSIRC and TWI has led to the development of a tool for electron beam welders (the BeamAssure family) and further work is being carried out on the development of predictive data analytics for quality assurance. Correlating information collected during processing to produce an assessment of the production readiness of the piece of equipment will require data processing tools and analysis to determine tolerance to variation in measured characteristics. It is expected that this research will be carried out in close collaboration with EBAM machine producers (such as Freemelt AB and/or Arcam AB) and with their clients in or near production (such as Airbus, GKN, Rolls-Royce, etc).

• In line quality assurance will become a feature of EB additive machines
• Machines will be able to verify their readiness to manufacture to required standards
• Less failed builds
• Quantified quality metrics will be used to assess production readiness
• The development of standards for verification of a production platform
• More reliable manufacture of components using EB additive
• Enable the uptake of AM parts for more safety critical applications e.g. in aerospace

About University/Department
Lancaster University is a strong and dynamic university with a very highly regarded Engineering Department. In the 2014 Research Excellence Framework, 91% of research quality and 100% of impact was assessed as being internationally excellent and world leading. Lancaster’s approach to interdisciplinary collaboration means that it has pre-eminent capacity and capability for the integration of Engineering with expertise in the areas of data science, autonomous and learning systems, intelligent automation, materials science and cyber security. The University is developing an ambitious growth plan for Engineering, including investment in staff, doctoral students, equipment and a new building focussed on research themes including Digital and Advanced Manufacturing. Lancaster is the current Times and Sunday Times University of the Year.

NSIRC is a state-of-the-art postgraduate engineering facility established and managed by structural integrity specialist TWI, working closely with lead academic partner Brunel University, the universities of Cambridge, Manchester, Loughborough, Birmingham, Leicester and a number of leading industrial partners. NSIRC aims to deliver cutting edge research and highly qualified personnel to its key industrial partners.

Candidate Requirements
Candidates should have a relevant degree at 2.1 minimum, or an equivalent overseas degree in (engineering or physics) Overseas applicants should also submit IELTS results (minimum 6.5) if applicable.

Funding Notes

This project is funded by Lancaster University, Lloyds Register Foundation and TWI. The funding covers the cost of Home/EU tuition fees and a standard tax-free RCUK stipend for three years. Non-EU students are welcome to apply, but the funding will only cover the cost of overseas tuition fees and the applicant need to self-fund their living cost for three years.

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