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NTU extends research lab partnership in aviation

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Rolls-Royce have invested a further S$88 million dollars into the Rolls-Royce@NTU Corporate Laboratory, a research partnership between the two organisations.

This research lab was jointly set up with the National Research Foundation (NRF) in 2013. It has gone through five years of partnership and is now being renewed with this investment.

Projects at hand

The renewal of this partnership will see the lab working on 29 new projects which are to commence on a big scale. These projects will be focused on creating new technologies that will be used in moving aircraft propulsion forward.

These projects will employ the use of Industry 4.0 technologies:

  • Connecting computers
  • Machines and engines
  • Generating valuable data which will enhance design, manufacturing, maintenance, services, and operations

The aim of these projects is to create technologies that are eco-friendly, efficient, and sustainable.

This can be seen in predicting an aircraft’s performance and its need for maintenance. Projects will use AI and Data Science in managing high volumes of data surrounding product design specifications, material quality, and durability, and the environmental conditions during operation. This will ensure that the final products are secure and are authentic.

Another case would be creating innovative energy storage solutions for enabling hybrid-electric aircrafts to speed up the adoption of alternative energy systems within the aerospace industry.

Areas of focus

The five main problems faced by the aerospace industry are in the areas of:

  1. Electrical
  2. Manufacturing Technology
  3. Advanced repair and materials
  4. Data Analytics and Complex Systems
  5. Internet-of-Things

The lab will be focusing on enhancing efficiency in key manufacturing processes such as “vibratory finishing”/ “vibropolishing”. This is a large-scale finishing process that is used to deburr, burnish, clean, and brighten big quantities of small pieces. The lab is further looking to discover ways of gelling “vibropolishing” with ‘vibropeening’, which is a process that hardens the surface of components for strengthened durability of the material.

It also seeks to find solutions for problems in 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies such as finishing and polishing processes for internal 3D-printed components. With overcoming these problems and the increased use of 3D printing, it allows for more innovation and use of these technologies.

NTU President Professor Subra Suresh said, “The Rolls-Royce@NTU Corp Lab is a fine demonstration of NTU scientists working with the industry to develop relevant solutions to meet real-world issues. The first phase of research has achieved remarkable success with more than 50 research projects that can create a significant impact on the aerospace industry. Building on that success, we are now moving into the second phase with renewed commitment and new projects that will elevate our collaboration to the next level. We will build on NTU’s core strengths, in areas such as alternative energy storage solutions, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data analysis.

Starting days

At the initial phase of the lab when it was just established, it managed 53 research projects in areas such as power electronics, data analytics, and repair and manufacturing technologies.

The findings from these research projects have been used to design and develop future power and propulsion systems and improve manufacturing operations in Singapore and in other Rolls-Royce sites located in other countries.

The lab also used artificial intelligence (AI) to develop digital solutions. It has created a new virtual engine emulator that uses AI to analyse years of engine design data to gain new perspectives. The system can automatically produce design options based on specific features and thus significantly shorten the design cycle time. This allows engine designers to narrow down to the options which can be further worked on to create future aircraft engines.

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