UK (Aston University) Aston University and Mechatherm create intelligent design process for furnaces and ancillary equipment to increase turnover by £7m

A more intelligent design process for furnaces and ancillary equipment for the global aluminium industry has been developed thanks to a three-year knowledge transfer partnership (KTP).

The collaboration between Aston University and Midlands-based casthouse technology specialists Mechatherm International Limited (MIL) has led to new product and services related avenues for the company.

The project has considerably reduced product development time and costs, increased capacity of engineers and has a projected annual sales turnover of more than £7.4 million over the next three years.

A KTP is a three-way collaboration between a business, an academic partner and a highly qualified researcher, known as a KTP associate.

Aston University is the leading KTP provider within the Midlands and the project with MIL was awarded the highest grade of ‘Outstanding’ by the Innovate UK KTP Grading Panel and has also taken a first prize in the Annual KTP showcase.

MIL is a leading provider of bespoke casthouse equipment to the aluminium industry. The company operates under very challenging circumstances imposed by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen their costs increase over a number of years.

To create further growth they identified a need to streamline their engineering practices, resulting in reduced overheads.

The KTP has done this by using design automation techniques to create a more intelligent process for the design and quotation of the company’s products. It has resulted in a high level of upfront detailed engineering, but at the fraction of the time and cost.

The project was led by Dr Gareth Thomson, reader of the mechanical engineering at Aston University and a co-director for the Aston STEM education centre, whose main academic interests are in design and smart systems technology.

He was joined by Dr Michal Konecny, lecturer in computer science at Aston University, who specialises in programming theory and software engineering. He said: “This KTP has been a great way for us to work with a new industrial partner, whilst enhancing our research and teaching.

“It is very exciting to see the success of this collaboration.”

Dr Suyesh Bhattarai, KTP associate and project manager for the partnership, led the integration of new processes into MIL’s management and communication systems. He’s now employed been employed by MIL as a technical specialist.

Owen Tollerfield, chief mechanical engineer at Mechatherm International Limited, said: “KTPs provide resource and academic support to companies with development ideas which otherwise may not be possible.

“This partnership has allowed us to produce a system which has saved time and resource, enabling us additional time to develop innovative solutions for the material recycling market and alternative hydrogen fuelled furnace concepts.”