Nottinghamshire-based Advanex, the European HQ of global precision engineering solutions experts Advanex Group, has highlighted the business impact of a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the University of Nottingham.

The company provides design, development, manufacturing, distribution and support services across the world. Its main revenue-generating products are springs and wire forms for medical devices and Kato CoilThread wire thread inserts manufactured predominantly for the aerospace and electronics market.

However, the Advanex Group also manufactures a broader range of precision metal parts, and to support its development in new markets purchased a Japanese company specialising in deep drawing, an advanced metal-forming process.

It was alongside the support from this company that Advanex Europe sought the University’s expertise through a two-year KTP, an Innovate UK-funded programme that helps SMEs to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within universities.

Under the guidance of Dr Hengan Ou, who leads the research team in Metal Forming and Materials Processing as part of the University’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology Group, the original aim of the KTP was to develop and embed a simulation/scientific-based approach to design for the tooling and manufacture of metal components in order to optimise flow and minimise defects. This was to support the company’s strategic aim to transfer contact probe production technology and another deep drawn product for a major medical device supplier from its Japanese company to Advanex Europe.

“Our KTP with the University of Nottingham has enabled the successful transfer of this to Europe and developed our relationship with our Japanese colleagues to support this technology,” said Advanex Europe Managing Director Ian Beardsmore.

“We are now in a far stronger position to take advantage of the opportunities we have with new deep drawn opportunities than we were prior to the project.”

The KTP achieved a working Finite Element Analysis model of multi-stage deep drawing, giving an understanding of the effects of each material and tooling parameter on the deep drawing process, alongside existing practical experience from Japan. This enabled a template to be created that allows easy design of tooling to manufacture customer-specific parts.

“We also previously lacked expertise in materials behaviour, formability and tribological effect and the KTP utilised the University’s knowledge base and its test equipment to provide an understanding of the impact of material properties on manufacture of deep drawn parts,” Ian explained. “This has enabled us to work with suppliers to create a specification for them to work to in order to deliver the right raw materials for the job.”

Mike Ribeaux, Product and Process Development Manager at Advanex Europe, who studied at the University of Nottingham and is a former KTP Associate, said: “What the University provided, that we did not have, was an in-depth understanding of the deep drawing process – in the UK we had zero understanding of deep drawn technology but with the support of the KTP we now have a great deal of understanding that allows us to take a customer drawing and design the required tooling to manufacture the part.”

However, an unexpected benefit to the company was the recruitment of KTP Associate, Subha Tamang, who has filled the knowledge and skills’ gap that would have been created by a senior technician retiring from Advanex Europe after 40 years’ service. “The collaboration enabled a really effective handover from our colleague to the KTP Associate and now R&D Engineer, saving us time and money,” Mike added.

The University of Nottingham is the third largest KTP provider in the UK – with 36 projects running and more than 120 in the past 12 years. “Our project with Advanex Europe is a really good example of how working with a university on a KTP allows businesses to focus on their innovation, and opens the door to their own bespoke research team,” said KTP Manager Paul Yeomans. “The greater focus from government on productivity has also made this approach to knowledge transfer even more important, as there has been a growing realisation that all businesses need to innovate, grow and evolve.”