The School of Mechanical Engineering recently took delivery of two brand new, state-of-the-art machine tools from Yamazaki Mazak UK. The provision further strengthens the long established relationship between the University of Birmingham (UoB) and Mazak, who already provide significant support to the UoB Formula Student team (UBRacing) as well as undergraduate year in industry internships at their European manufacturing headquarters in Worcester. The machines, a VCS430A 3-axis vertical machining centre with a maximum spindle speed of 12,000rpm and a QTS200M turning centre equipped with a driven tool turret, will be used primarily to develop and expand research collaboration in advanced machining processes / technology in association with third party OEM and first tier supplier organisations such as Rolls-Royce, Airbus, GKN, Doncasters etc. Housed in the School’s extensive Advanced Manufacturing Processes Laboratory, the machine tools shown in Figure 1 will also be employed to support selected teaching and student experience activities in order to promote and expose the country’s future engineers to high value manufacturing, a rejuvenated and vital sector within the UK’s economy. 

Since full commissioning in around April / May this year, a number of short term projects have been completed using the machines. This includes 3 experimentally based final year undergraduate projects, which focussed on the machinability of nickel based superalloys (Inconel 718) and next generation titanium alloys (gamma titanium aluminide) for applications in the manufacture of aeroengine gas turbines. While the machines were operated by trained technicians, the students were present during testing and performed all subsequent specimen measurements (e.g. tool wear, surface roughness, microhardness, workpiece microstructure etc.) and associated data analysis. Over the past 2 months, the turning centre has also been utilised to manufacture several key components (which otherwise would have been outsourced) for this year’s Formula Student car. The part geometries were relatively complex and included both the front and rear wheel hubs (see Figure 2), which were machined from solid aluminium alloy. Here, the QTS200M was operated by David King, a recent Mechanical Engineering graduate who spent a year out at Mazak in 2012/13 (and therefore fully au fait with the machine control system) and will be joining the company full time in August.  

A couple of projects are currently on-going, the first being a PhD programme aimed at investigating the influence of burr formation on fatigue life of metallic-composite stack components following drilling. In addition to UoB and Mazak, the other industrial partners are Airbus and Mapal, with the former providing financial contributions as well as workpiece materials and the latter supplying specialist cutting tools. Mainstream experimental trials will be carried out on the VCS430A, as it has the capability for through spindle cutting fluid application, which is closely representative of conditions used in production. The second project relates to the development of terahertz waveguide filters for communications systems. Undertaken in collaboration with colleagues from the School of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering, the filters have been specially designed for manufacture on a computer numerically controlled (CNC) turning centre such that all machining operations can be completed in a single setup. Two sets of filters (with different microwave specifications) are currently being manufactured, which will then be tested to determine if the required dimensional accuracy / feature tolerances have been achieved and thereby validate the microwave filter designs.

Plans to grow collaborative research activities and increase utilisation of the machines are already underway, with discussions for new PhD opportunities currently in progress. The equipment from Mazak is also anticipated to help underpin future research initiatives including supporting grant applications to the EPSRC, TSB and EU Horizon 2020.


Figure 1: Mazak VCS430A 3-axis vertical machining centre and QTS200M turning centre located in the Advanced Manufacturing Processes Laboratory


Figure 2: Front and rear hubs machined using the Mazak QTS200M