Aerospace and engineering firms hear about potential of electron microscopy

The ability of electron microscopy to enhance the engineering and aerospace sectors has been showcased during an event at the University of Plymouth.

The second event in the Industrial Solutions 2018-20 series, hosted by Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre (PEMC), welcomed more than 30 representatives from industry and academia.

It started with an introduction from Claire Pearce, Manager of the Plymouth Materials Characterisation Project (PMCP), about the centre’s relaunched website, future aspirations and the opportunities being created by PMCP.

Launched in February 2018, PMCP is funded by a grant from the European Regional Development Fund and its aim is to enable more than 40 businesses to collaborate with PEMC for free by mid-2020. 

Part of this investment is the only free and publicly available FIB-SEM (focused ion beam, scanning electron microscope) in the south west, which brings 3D imaging and analysis at the nano-scale to companies based in Devon.

Claire said:

“Since the FIB-SEM arrived, we have spoken to over 60 Devon companies about its capabilities and 15 SMEs have already benefited from it to support the development of new products, to understand their existing products better and to problem solve. Feedback has shown that events like this really help to put electron microscopy into a context that makes sense.”

Two companies who have already benefited from the facility spoke about the positive influence it has had on their business.

Richard Bartlett, MB Aerospace – demonstrating a process development and improvement on a part, thanks to the objective information provided by EDS analysis on the scanning electron microscope.

Richard Bartlett from MB Aerospace, which focuses on component manufacture, technologies and repair, described how access to PEMC enables the company to solve problems, improve processes and support their research and development. He said:

“Electron microscopy essentially supports MB Aerospace in getting answers to questions. It is incredibly valuable to have real evidence (imaging and analysis) to convince people when there is a need for change – both for our own internal processes, but also our suppliers.”

Tim Searle, Composite Innovations Ltd – demonstrating the resin-fibre interaction in a composite material, with a scale-bar of 2um, captured on the ERDF-funded FIB-SEM.

Tim Searle, Director of Composite Innovations Ltd, described how the new FIB-SEM has given the company new insights to their composite manufacturing processes, enabling it to implement crucial process innovations that can be passed onto their customers. He added:

“Using electron microscopy, we can see how the resin and fibres interact; we found unexpected voids which we will now work to eliminate. The FIB-SEM is a remarkable and powerful tool in helping us improve methods to build high performance materials.”

<p>Claire Pearce welcoming delegates to the event<br></p>
<p>Dr Yang Liu demonstrating the capability of the FIB-SEM to the morning’s attendees<br></p>
<p>Josie Gough explaining the role of Innovate UK to business<br></p>
<p>Dr Yang Liu and Tim Searle of Composite Innovations Ltd who has used the FIB-SEM to gather objective information that has led to crucial process innovations for the company and their customers, through the Plymouth Materials Characterisation Project. <br></p>

There was also a presentation from Josie Gough, South West Regional Manager for Innovate UK, who described the four main mechanisms through which companies can access funding to grow including through collaboration with universities: KTP, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, open responsive competitions and loans.

She spoke about the benefits of each to industry and how they are often the next step on from companies working with universities through European-funded projects such as PMCP.

After lunch, the majority of the delegates visited PEMC for a live demonstration of the FIB-SEM carrying out analysis and imaging, led by Dr Yang Liu.

The Industrial Solutions 2018-20 series is supported by Innovate UK, UKRI, ZEISS, and the University’s own Research & Innovation team. The series will focus specifically on sectors identified within the UK government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and priority areas for the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, practically demonstrating how electron microscopy has already been used by companies in that sector. Sectors include photonics and microelectronics, healthy aging/biomedical, marine technology, new energy/renewables and geoscience.

Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre

The Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre offers expert and specialist support to students, researchers, academics and industry. We have a comprehensive range of light microscopes, electron microscopes, imaging processing and analysis software providing support to a range of disciplines within the University, external research organisations and industry clients.

Find out more about the centre

Plymouth Materials Characterisation Project (PMCP)

Your products analysed at the nano-scale

We're offering 40 SMEs in Devon the chance to work with technical specialists and state-of-the-art technology, to provide insight into product samples and offer real solutions to real business problems - free of charge.

The project will use the brand new focused ion-beam, scanning electron microscope (FIB-SEM) to analyse your samples and initiate new product development, leaving a lasting impact on your business.

Interested? Take a look at the project, eligibility criteria, and next steps here.