Mark Price likes new ideas. But he is working in a world where they are treated with caution.
Mark says, "Aircraft manufacturing is a conservative industry. That's understandable because if anything goes wrong it has very serious consequences. So when someone comes along with either a new material or a new process, the certification authorities insist that you demonstrate that they will perform, not just in a laboratory test, but right through in a vehicle that's flying. That's why air travel is so safe."
Mark, Professor of Aeronautics and Director of Research in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is one of the UK's leading aerospace academics with an international reputation for research into integrated design methods. And it's research for which there is a hunger in the industry.
"We work very closely with Bombardier because they're one of the most innovative companies in the world. Right now they're building one of the most advanced passenger jets and in a new purpose-built factory."
Mark once worked for Bombardier himself. That was in 1988 when he left Queen's with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering and a masters in Computing, "which was kind of rare at that time.' He worked in the firm's stress office, carrying out structural calculations, "but there was an element of innovation in the job as well which attracted me to the world of research." He returned to Queen's to do a PhD in making models for analysis. There followed a spell in industry in England then he joined the Aeronautical Department at Queen's in 1998.
"Several of us were 'new starts'. Structural design work was really only beginning. There were questions like, couldOne of the nice things about EPSRC is that it allows you to cross over. We're building systems models that are as relevant for polymer factories as they are for an aerospace factory. you weld things instead of using rivets and bolts? A lot of the calculation methods needed changing to cope with these new processes."
He says, "When you're dealing with new technology, new material, you don't just observe it and say, that's ok... it doesn't break... it must work. You carry out a whole series of analyses so that you understand exactly what's going on and then when you take it out, the designer can make the right decisions."
Innovation takes time and money. Mark is appreciative of the research finance that has come from EPSRC. "EPSRC funding is really aimed at longer-term research. Some of the things we're testing now at higher levels, we were doing initial analysis just over ten years ago. So we're looking at a lengthy timescale that allows us to explore things, unencumbered by the immediate demands of industry. That way we can be more speculative and that in turn leads to higher reward in terms of results and feeds tomorrow's industry needs."
A current EPSRC project is looking at thermal management in polymer processing. It stems from an interest in composite materials now being used in aircraft and involves collaboration with colleagues from other fields. The project is aiming to help companies use energy more efficiently without affecting their product quality.
"One of the nice things about EPSRC is that it allows you to cross over. We're building systems models that are as relevant for polymer factories as they are for an aerospace factory. This is an unexpected area for our research, polymers, but I've got a bug for developing new things so we'll develop the technology there and then bring it back into aerospace, once again feeding the innovation loop."
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