Brunel opens industrial scale casting research centre

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Brunel University is to open its Advanced Metal Casting Centre (AMCC), where innovative technologies to make automotive components lighter and completely recyclable will be tested under industry conditions.

The £17million, 1500m2 building has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Innovate UK, Constellium and Jaguar Land Rover. The facility is equipped with a 1600 tonne locking force high pressure die caster for aluminium and magnesium alloys; a 240kN closing force low pressure die caster; a pilot scale hot-top direct chill caster for 2m long billets up to 204mm in diameter; a 16 MN direct extrusion press with taper controlled billet heating; a scaled-up twin roll caster incorporating Brunel’s novel melt conditioning technology; and high resolution real-time X-ray inspection.

The primary aim is to scale up from fundamental research carried out in the Brunel Centre for Advanced Solidification Techniques (BCAST) and the Liquid Metal Engineering Centre (LiME) under Professor Zhongyun Fan.

Professor Fan said: “Our long term aim is to reduce the amount of new metal mined from the ground to a minimum by finding ways to make high quality parts and materials from metal that has already been used at least once.”

By validating techniques using industry-standard equipment, the research facility should be able to bridge the so-called “valley of death” between lab-scale success and mainstream factory floor implementation.

Prof Fan and his team have demonstrated how it is possible to condition molten aluminium alloys to produce castings with a much finer grain structure so car components can be made up to 40% lighter.

The same techniques are also said to hold significant promise in making mixed aluminium alloys scrap a suitable material for high quality castings. Currently such scrap is difficult or impossible to recycle to a high enough quality for re-use in automotive manufacturing.

Officially opening the AMCC today, April 7, Brunel’s vice-chancellor and president, Professor Julia Buckingham announced work will shortly begin on a second facility the Advanced Metal Processing Centre so that a broader range of components can be produced and tested against current practice.

Once operational they will form, along with Constellium’s University Technology Centre at Brunel, the National Metals Research Park to broaden the end customer base to include aerospace, rail and other engineering industries.