New UWE Vice-Chancellor Challenge Grant Awards

The CFPR are delighted to announce the award of three Vice-Chancellor Challenge grants that include members of our research centre. UWE Bristol has created this Challenge Fund to enable researchers to reach beyond their current teams, look outside of their disciplines, and develop exciting new research with colleagues working in different fields. The University’s aim is to support collaborations that are ready to respond to external funding calls which require innovative interdisciplinary responses to meet future opportunities.

Featured image: Upper and lower jaw model from bodyparts3D with tongue from Dr Paul Worgan.

A novel tongue-based human-computer interface for widening computer access

Awarded to Dr Daniel Withey, Lecturer in Intelligent Assistive Robotics, Dr James Whiting, Senior Lecturer in Electronics and Dr Paul Worgan, Senior Research Fellow in Industry and Transformative Technology at the CFPR.

The aim of this project is to develop an assistive device to open computer access for individuals with tetraplegia or other long-term conditions where the use of traditional access devices is not possible, but where tongue motion is not impaired.

With recent developments in 3D printing coupled with a soft, form-fitting support, based on technology borrowed from mouthguards used in contact sports, the team believe that an improved tongue-based sensor can be produced. The improved sensor would overcome disadvantages found in existing systems, such as the need for tongue piercing, and be easily inserted and removed, with secure, comfortable positioning during operation. Furthermore, since all electronics are encapsulated between two biopolymer layers, the mouthguard can be sterilised when not in use. Ultimately, it should also be possible to transfer energy to the tongue-based sensor using inductive power transfer, a topic thoroughly researched and practically implemented by Dr Worgan on his PhD thesis.

One of the target applications of the tongue-computer interface is for control of assistive robotics devices, such as powered wheelchairs to internet banking to online learning and entertainment. The device could provide a joystick-like interface allowing user control via tongue motion in cases where hand operation is not otherwise possible.

Design and digital manufacturing of sustainable and multi-functional bio-composites

Awarded to Dr Amir Bolouri, Associate Professor in Manufacturing, Dr. Matthew O’Donnell, Senior Lecture in Composite Structures, Dr. Mahdi Damghani, Senior Lecturer of Aerostructures, and Dr. Nazmul Karim is an Associate Professor for Novel Print Processes and Materials (Graphene) at the CFPR.

62,000 tonnes a year of unused end-of-life and production waste is being accumulated with very limited  options for recycling. The vision for this project is to create a paradigm shift in digital design and  manufacturing of sustainable and multi-functional bio-composites with shape changing and programmable properties using natural fibre and resins using advanced modelling tools to design bio-inspired bio-compatible composites for advanced applications.  

The  outcomes  of  this  project  will  create bio-compatible smart  materials  that  can  be  potentially  used  for autonomous  bio-compatible  robots,  multi-functional wearable fabrics, and passive systems such as adaptive solar tracking. For example, an autonomous  bio-compatible  robot  can  travel  across  the  ocean,  give  a  report  from  the  quality  of  water  and  will safely degrade at end of use.  Furthermore,  conventional  wearable devices create a large amount of waste. Bio-compatible  wearable  devices  can be  easily  recycled.    The  development  of  composite  materials such  as  Carbon  Fibre  Reinforced  Polymer  offers  a significant weight  reduction  for  structural  applications  in  vehicles,  robotics  and  civil  engineering.  Despite advantages of thermoset-based composite materials, their environmental footprint is high as they are neither bio-based nor recyclable. Alternatively, environmentally friendly materials such as bio-composites with natural constituents can be used to address the environmental concerns. Although natural fibres and resins have lower mechanical  properties compared  to  typical  composites,  they respond strongly to external stimuli (heat, light, water, electricity etc.) making them ideal candidates for reconfigurable structures. For example, flax fibres exhibit different hygroscopic radial and longitudinal swelling coefficient when exposed to moisture. When these fibres are used in a bilayer configuration consisting of stiff-passive and soft-active layers, they can provide bending, twisting, and folding of the structure. The research team aim to combine and exploit the knowledge of advanced materials science, modelling, AI-driven generative   design,   and   digital   3D   printing   to   develop,   design   and   manufacture   novel, environmentally  sustainable  and high-performance  composites  that  possess  programmable  and  reconfigurable properties.

Additive manufacturing and monitoring of ceramic shells for casting topologically optimised metal structures

Awarded to Dr Amir Bolouri, Associate Professor in Manufacturing, Dr Shwe Soe, Wallscourt Fellow in Digital Manufacturing, Dr Saber Khayatzadeh, lecturer, Dr Marianthi Leon, Associate Head for Research and Scholarship, and Dr Tavs Jorgensen, Associate Professor at the CFPR.

This proposal brings together four disciplines, previously un-connected in metal casting, to develop the key knowledge underpinning the future development of commercially valuable flexible metal casting equipment: AI-powered generative designs of topologically optimised lightweight structures; additive manufacturing of ceramic moulds; digital monitoring of the process; and the materials science of metal casting. The research team will combine additive layer manufacturing and metal casting to produce complex shapes, which are not possible with metal additive printers and conventional metal casting processes. For example, current metal-additive printers cannot print Magnesium – the lightest structural metal combined with superior damping capacity and has tremendous potential in achieving light weighting in vehicles with improved noise, vibration, and harshness performance. The use of casting processes is a viable option to manufacture Magnesium components. However, advanced complex topologically optimised structures designed for ultra-light weighting cannot be manufactured using conventional casting processes. To enable producing Magnesium components with details and complexities comparable with additively manufactured metallic ones, the team will develop a novel hybrid approach where a ceramic shell mould will be additively manufactured for the cast components, but the liquid metal will be drawn into the fine structures using a vacuum while monitoring the process and the gathered data will be utilised for simulation purposes.

Vehicle light weighting represents a vital strand of an integrated national approach to transport decarbonisation. The UK Government has set a target of a 60% reduction in transport sector CO2 emissions by 2030. This highlights the urgent need for implementation of light weighting across all classes of vehicles to achieve this milestone. One major element in the weight-reduction is to generate a paradigm shift in how products/parts are designed/manufactured using novel and generative design tools and methods powered by machine learning. Further, if certain aluminium and steel parts in these novel designs are replaced with Magnesium, the expected weight saving would be significantly high over 50% due to their designs and materials.

This novel technology will offer a step change in manufacturing efficiency. It will significantly reduce casting defects and discard rates for cast components; improve the accuracy of requirements capture and design specification processes, eliminating the need for physical prototypes and traditional trial-and-error; significantly reduce inconsistency in mechanical properties and quality; eliminate the need for adding casting factors of safety, thus enabling substantial light weighting, and connect the data flows with an innovative and bespoke digital thread, a Digital Twin.

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