PEMC Fine Tubes

A leading South West firm is aiming to grow its international trade to the aerospace industry. Plymouth-based precision engineering company Fine Tubes is preparing to change the way it makes components for aircraft by investigating the crystal structure of metal alloys, with help from Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre (PEMC), at Plymouth University.

Established over 70 years ago, Fine Tubes manufactures high precision metal tubes that are used all over the world in critical applications for industries including aerospace, oil and gas, power generation and medical devices.

The company’s titanium alloy tubes are mainly used in the hydraulic systems of aircraft, where they need to withstand extreme pressure and high temperature. Fine Tubes is researching the microstructure of its alloys and how this affects the way they work. Ultimately, the firm is aiming to use its findings to make adjustments to its manufacturing processes, producing components with improved performance.

Working with PEMC, the team is investigating different samples of the material more closely, using a technique called Electron Back Scatter Diffraction (EBSD) with the centre’s cutting-edge facilities and experienced team.

Val Hart, Technical Manager of Fine Tubes, said: 

“Aircraft components require frequent failure checks and replacing parts is expensive. This means maintaining the consistency of the quality of our products is essential to the aerospace industry. Fine Tubes has been collaborating with Plymouth University for a long time and has always used its electron microscopy facilities for testing and fault finding. Having such a good team and facilities that are constantly updated just half an hour from our premises is invaluable. This project is taking our relationship to a new level as we are working with PEMC to see if we can change our manufacturing processes by benchmarking our product, which could have a massive impact on our standing in the international market.”

Established over 30 years ago, PEMC was recently transformed as part of a £1.3million project, funded by the University, JEOL (UK) Ltd and a £579,960 grant from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which gave local businesses free access to its state-of-the-art facilities.

Claire Pearce, Commercialisation Project Manager at PEMC, said: 

“We are really excited to be working with Fine Tubes on this innovative and complex project. EBSD – the specialist technique Fine Tubes is using–– is something that an increasing number of engineering businesses need, so we’re pleased that we have the facilities to offer this. PEMC is continually upgrading its facilities to ensure it is the first port of call for any South West business requiring comprehensive materials analysis and characterisation and image processing using advanced analytical electron microscopy.”

Through GAIN (the Growth Acceleration and Investment Network), Fine Tubes accessed an advanced electron microscopy technique to support their research and development. GAIN is enabling Plymouth University to work with partners across the South West to help businesses achieve their growth potential.

Adrian Dawson, Head of GAIN Projects and Partnerships said:

“It is great to see how our world-class facilities and expertise are enabling Fine Tubes to carry out this research. This could be ground-breaking work, ultimately helping Fine Tubes have a global impact.”

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