The Materials and Manufacturing Academy (M2A) commenced in 2015 with the aim of creating the future leaders of Welsh industry through industry sponsored postgraduate research. Here Thomas Lewis, M2A Coatings Project Coordinator, discusses how the academy wants to build on academic-industry partnerships and inject continued innovation into the worlds of research and industry.
"Swansea University’s inception was largely driven by the needs of local industry at the time; this theme continues today and forms a foundational aspect that constitutes the Materials and Manufacturing Academy (M2A) COATED EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT).
"The Materials and Manufacturing Academy provides industry-driven postgraduate research training for the engineers of the future, with more than 120 current projects ongoing, and industry stakeholders featuring a long-term partnership with Tata Steel, as well as Rolls Royce, and BASF to mention only a few. Our ongoing aim is to build on academic-industry partnerships and inject continued innovation into the worlds of research and industry.
"Supported by the European Social Fund through the Welsh Government, we seek to increase the affluence of Wales and the UK by delivering highly skilled individuals that can enter the workplace and drive the knowledge economy, improving employment prospects and prosperity for all. Ultimately, the focus is to produce Research Engineers that develop not only technical and research excellence but are equipped with the professional skills to become leaders in industry and academia.
"A recent example of our ambition in training the engineers of the future is that of Caitlin McCall, an EngD student who’s recently been ranked 26th in the Top 50 Women in Engineering as part of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) Awards. Caitin's research has largely been based around printed packaging technology targeted towards the food industry and has even lent her hand towards working on a London fashion design project incorporating printed lighting, as well as PPE production during the peak of the global pandemic. Caitlin successfully achieved Chartered Engineer status during the latter stages of her work and is now in the midst of writing up her thesis.
"The programme’s collaborative successes can have a meaningful impact for industry stakeholders too, including the generation of intellectual property and turnaround from laboratory research into product development and deployment within the project lifespan. This was certainly the case for a current EngD project relating to functional and fully recyclable plastic packaging, which can be found in supermarkets across Europe today.
"The ongoing relationship with Tata Steel is testament to the benefit of the programme for industry, extending into multiple aspects of the business. Many of our EngD Alumni have gone on to join the business, continuing the momentum and incorporating that level of accumulated knowledge, expertise and understanding from those projects.
"Other evolving successes have led to the formation of spin-out companies; one example incorporating the development of commercial technology that can continuously monitor the temperatures of molten steel during production. This was borne out of an EngD project, saving the business up to £4.5 million per year alongside the associated reduction in CO2 emissions.
"September saw the return of the M2A annual conference, an all-day event filled with presentations and posters showcasing the cutting-edge research from the M2A cohort, held virtually for the first time. Following on from this year’s successful conference, the Academy will also host a special exhibition day which will detail the benefits for industrial partners should they choose to sponsor a postgraduate research project, which will take place on 4th November.
"In addition, the programme itself is considered as a highly accessible and cost-effective means of engaging in university research and will soon be releasing a call for new project proposals relating to the fields of materials and manufacturing, and functional industrial coatings.