Six manufacturing, materials and training firms tackling the biggest global problems

Professional Engineering

UK engineering firms are coming up with innovative solutions to some of Earth's biggest problems (Credit: Shutterstock)
UK engineering firms are coming up with innovative solutions to some of Earth's biggest problems (Credit: Shutterstock)

Faster trains. Cleaner air. Fresher food. Engineering firms are tackling some of the world’s biggest problems.

This week, we're diving into the 2018 edition of the 1,000 Companies to Inspire report from the London Stock Exchange, looking at 19 UK businesses at the forefront of engineering innovation.

Yesterday, we covered five of the cleanest and greenest companies in energy, environment and process engineering. Today, we're featuring six of the most innovative UK manufacturing, materials and training firms.   

Materials: Combating the corrosion challenge

FTI Group (Fiba Tech Industries), Shepton Mallet

Corrosion is a big problem for the oil and gas industry, particularly in terms of increased repair and replacement costs. To help combat problems related to corrosion under insulation, Shepton Mallet-based FTI has been making and supplying non-metallic cladding systems for more than two decades.

“Non-metallic systems significantly outperform their metallic counterparts,” says Neil Smallwood, FTI’s managing director. “This means operators can ensure the integrity of their pipelines and plants, reduce costs, and improve health and safety at the same time.”

The company also provides solutions for the aerospace and rail industries, which often require large volumes of high-quality components that have excellent fire, smoke and toxicity performance and at the lowest cost possible. Most recently, FTI has developed a way of processing phenolic resins that improves the speed of curing of prepregs – materials pre-impregnated with an epoxy resin.

“While traditional prepregs are slow to cure, FibaRoll PH can reduce processing time – by at least 75% – and can help companies to meet critical production targets and improve their bottom line,” says Smallwood.

Training: Bucking the trend on apprenticeships

Advanced Insulation, Gloucester

Engineering is the economic backbone of the UK, and apprentices are the foundation of future businesses and innovation. Despite this, from August 2016 to July 2017, the number of engineering and manufacturing-related apprenticeships started in England was 74,000, down from 77,000 in the period from August 2015 to July 2016. Government data indicates that the 12 months to July 2018 will see another drop.

According to Advanced Insulation’s managing director Andrew Bennion, apprenticeships are important for future-proofing the sector. The manufacturer of insulation and fire protection systems for the oil and gas industry has had recent success with its apprentices, one of whom has won regional and national awards.

Apprentice pattern-maker Ben Townsend has been entrusted to work on projects worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, honing his craft alongside the senior pattern-shop team. Bennion says that transferring skills “is crucial if the UK is to bridge the skills gap” in the industry.

Manufacturing: Making screens and monitors easier to see

GTK, Basingstoke

No matter how high the brightness and resolution of a TV, its picture can become overwhelmed if it’s placed near a window or in a room with bright lights. The colours end up being washed out, distracting reflections are cast, and fingerprints and other dirty marks show up.

Electronics manufacturer GTK provides optical enhancement solutions, ideal for monitor screens in brightly lit hospitals and for screens used outdoors, especially during summer. These include an anti-glare film and an anti-fingerprint coating that can be applied to a display or cover lens. The coatings and films diffuse unwanted light and render the display readable or screen viewable. “Optical enhancements help to improve attractiveness and aesthetics of designs, increasing usability and customer satisfaction,” says Clive Dickinson, business manager for displays at GTK.

Manufacturing: Speed up production with packing robots

SG Technologies, Rainham

Smart manufacturing can give companies a competitive edge. For SG Technologies, this has come in the form of a high-speed robotic packing line. 

The east London company’s main focus is on making magnetic components and its clients include Bosch, Ford and VW. In the past couple of years, however, the manufacturer realised that its packing process was arduous and that automating it would significantly increase production throughput. So it turned to automated assembly specialist Innomech, which designed a system to improve SG’s efficiency and production capacity. 

The system uses a picking robot to transfer several finished products at a time into trays ready for shipment – a laser micrometer is used to identify individual products by length. Eliminating the need for manual handling reduces the risk of products being damaged. It also means skilled operators can focus their attention on more demanding tasks.

Manufacturing: Seamlessly prototyping

WHS Plastics, Sutton Coldfield

To bring new products to market, firms need a seamless prototyping process. WHS Plastics runs a product design and rapid prototyping service, offering mould flow analysis – a critical component in producing plastic injection moulds – and providing its customers with 3D-printed and vacuum-cast models. 

One disadvantage with using additive manufacturing is that, while it can make prototypes quickly, parts may have poor strength and not be suitable for functional testing. WHS addresses this by using selective laser sintering, which produces complex shapes with mechanical functions.


Manufacturing: Reliable testing for defects in assets

Quickmach Engineering, Gloucester

Non-destructive testing (NDT) is crucial for the better management of assets and ensuring the integrity of infrastructure. Quickmach is an aerospace components maker with a focus on aircraft actuation and undercarriage equipment and supplying surface finishes and heat treatments to commercial clients. Part of the company’s process involves Nadcap-accredited NDT services: acid-etch inspection, magnetic flaw detection and penetrant flaw detection.

Although it primarily carries out inspection and testing in-house, Quickmach also relies on subcontractors. However, this can be problematic, as work that is subcontracted can be harder to have control over. The company minimises any risk by ensuring that its subcontractors are fully approved and meet industry standards.

Read part one, on energy, environment and process companies, here.

Read part three, on transport engineering firms, here.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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