Five years of NSIRC
October marked the fifth anniversary of NISRC’s founding and delivery under contract (15 October 2012). This article looks at why and how NSIRC came into being, and what have been it’s goals and achievements to date.
The idea for NSIRC as an organisation can be traced to an announcement made by David Willetts while he was Minister for Universities and Science. He was looking for a new type of arrangement for postgraduate universities that would be led by the needs of industry. As Willets saw the situation, the current jobs market was limited, and with ever increasing numbers of university postgraduates, the market was reaching a saturation point, with positions within specific industries becoming extremely competitive, leading to a further rise in the amount of young people out of work. This problem was not simply restricted to the UK, but was also in the Far East, Europe and the US.
What the UK needed was to prepare PhDs for the current job market and, by making NSIRC research projects industry driven, students could look forward to a challenging and enjoyable research environment, with a direct path towards a future career within their field of expertise.
Thanks to NSIRC, businesses could look for innovative solutions from academia to help meet their business needs of higher productivity, lower costs and increased efficiency. This was to be a market-driven approach to higher education and it had to be fostered in order to encourage workforce development from a grassroots level.
The NSIRC facility at TWI Ltd, Cambridge
There have always been challenges with integrating academia and industry. Employers often find that it takes up to two years to train a graduate before they can contribute effectively. One such reason for this could be attributed to academics and industrialists having different mind-sets, therefore both living in two different worlds. “The academic is striving for recognition from his or her peers, whereas the industrialist is mainly concerned with costs,” explained Tat-Hean Gan, Director of NSIRC at the 2017 NSIRC Annual Conference, “Industry thinks in terms of short range goals whereas academia has a long range perspective.” Typically for industry, low risk solutions which have been validated are preferable to creating new solutions with a high innovation rate. Research and development costs time and money, without immediate success.
With the divide between business and academia in mind, NSIRC’s key missions were designed - Develop a critical mass of research informed by the needs of industry across the field of structural integrity – Create and tailor postgraduate programmes to train the next generation of researchers and engineers to support UK science and innovation - Accelerate the translation of science into industrially relevant products and services - Contribute to the development of effective standards and regulations - Become the research provider of choice for industry in the area of structural integrity.
To date, over 100 students have enrolled as industrial postgraduate students with NSIRC, with 17 students expected to complete their PhDs in 2017.
This year, on the 23rd July at Brunel University London, Anna Wojdyla-Cieslak received her PhD in Structural Integrity and, in doing so, she became NSIRC’s first PhD graduate. Anna’s research focused on new coatings and surface treatments, aiming to help increase fuel efficiency in large structures and machines, such as wind turbines, ships and aircraft, where ice build-up or marine organisms can cause negative effects.
“I wanted to follow a postgraduate programme that would help me to stand out from others, to do something different - and studying in an industry environment doing real project work does exactly this", explained Anna. “The research environment can differ greatly between academia and industry. The opportunity to do an industrial PhD gives the taste of both, and that’s why a PhD at NSIRC was the ideal opportunity.”
A prime example of the success of the PhD research conducted at NSIRC has been the sale of 300 industrial inspection systems by Plant Integrity. In order to complete the system, five PhD students contributed research towards the design of the electronics of the flaw detector, four contributed to the design of the ultrasonic sensors and 11 contributed to the validation of data on thousands of welded pipes in various operating conditions.
NSIRC students are producing world leading research across the organisation, such as that produced by PhD student Mario Kostan, who has developed a novel ultrasonic transducer in response to industry’s need for inspection and condition monitoring of high-temperature pipelines in ageing nuclear power plants. To do this, he has developed transducers that can withstand temperatures up to 250°C by enhancing the existing design. The bar is moving even higher by developing transducers that can withstand temperatures up to 580°C.
The research is not only PhD ordinated, NSIRC’s MSc course-led research is also of vital importance to industry. An example of its application came when a TWI Industrial Member requested a copy of Murat Tuncer’s MSc dissertation - the clearest demonstration of the value of the research taking place at NSIRC - Murat’s thesis was titled ‘Influence of Side Grooves on Fracture Toughness Specimens’.
Electron Beam Diagnosis has been another success for NSIRC students, where the target was to develop a method that correlates electron beam measurements with welding quality. NSIRC students contributed to its development and it is now in use on four Electron Beam machines at TWI, and two are in production for TWI clients.
Research into Plasma Pre-Treatment in Adhesive Bonding has also been taking place at NSIRC’s world leading facilities. The current pre-treatment of materials prior to bonding is time consuming, energy intensive, produces waste (often hazardous) and varies according to substrate. Thanks to research conducted by NSIRC students, plasma can now be used for the adhesive bonding of composite materials, eliminating the use of solvent cleaner and mechanical abrasion. This method can be used in industry for the successful bonding of untreated composite materials.
Industrial inspection systems by Plant Integrity, developed by the combined research of NSIRC PhD students
With the essential course integration with industry, many NSIRC PhD students move straight into exciting careers as a result of their research. By 2017, six PhD students have been recruited by TWI as Project Leaders, including Tan Hwei Yang, Francisco Arteche, Yao Ren, Kamran Pedram, Jialin Tang and Anna Wojdyla-Cieslak, our first PhD graduate. Other former students have moved into fantastic career opportunities outside of TWI, such as Antonio Romero, who is working for Innerspec NDT Technologies in Spain as a R&D Engineer, Dacho Dachev for the Ford Motor Company in the UK as a Suspension Engineer, and Berta Navarro who is now working for Iberica del Espacio, S. A. as a Project Manager.
In the short history of NSIRC, there have already been many notable students’ achievements - here are a few highlights:
- Agata Wasilczuk was declared Best MSc student from all the MSc courses at Brunel University London
- Mario Kostan won a £2,000 scholarship from the Frankopan Trust to support his studies
- Somsubhro Chaudhuri won an award for best presentation at the Annual Postgraduate Conference at the University of Southampton
- David Williams won first prize in the University of Surrey poster competition, judged by a panel from the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences
- Muntasir Hashim has been awarded for a poster presentation relating to his research topic ‘Influence of Pit Morphology on Crack Propagation’ at the University of Manchester (UoM) School of Materials Postgraduate (PGR) Student Conference 2017
- Mahesh Dissanayake won a 'Best Technical Paper' at CLAWAR 2017 in Porto, Portugal
- Kostas Georgilas traveled to Greece in order to present his research poster at EuroMAT 2017
- Farnoosh Farhad was awarded a grant from the Educational Awards Committee of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) to present a research paper at the International Conference on Tomography of Materials and Structures (ICTMS).
The NSIRC ethos is allowing students to learn independently through involvement in active projects and putting students at the heart of the Structural Integrity community. Each year, NSIRC is providing more students with research opportunities on collaborative Pan-European R&D projects as well as projects undertaken on behalf of large industrial clients globally. Alongside TWI Ltd, the organisation continues to bridge the gap between academia and industry, by nurturing the best in engineering talent towards a long and successful career.
NSIRC Annual Conference 2017 Award Winners and judges: From the left: Tat-Hean Gan, Somsubhro Chaudhuri, Jan Przydatek, Marion Bourebrab, Aamir Khalid, Cui Er Seow, Ali Same and Roberto Morana