PhD Studentship: Predictive Control for Microwave Heating Uniformity in Composite Curing Applications

University of Sheffield - Electronic and Electrical Engineering

Applications are invited to undertake doctoral research on control, power electronics and microwave systems for heating apparatus in the field of composite materials manufacturing.

The re-engineering of a wide range of structures to include composite materials can be seen across a huge range of applications. The composites content in commercial airplanes has reached more than 50%. This increase in composites usage leads to pressure on the supply chain. Generally, composites manufacture for safety-critical applications is slow, as autoclaves are used to provide heat and pressure during cure, to yield laminates with low void content and hence the highest strength. Heat transfer in autoclaves is slow as it relies on gas convection, increasing cycle time. To date, the primary use of large quantities of composite materials in commercial aircraft has been in larger aircraft where the production rates are comparatively low. To incorporate further composite materials in single-aisle aircraft, produced at rate in excess of 40 per month, new methods of manufacture are required, and this is where microwave potentially provides a solution. In aerospace manufacturing, the UK is currently 2nd only to the US but this competitive position is under threat. The UK needs to establish R&D leadership in the new technologies that will be used in the next generation of aircraft, and develop ways of accelerating production to ensure that it wins a substantial proportion of future orders. It is estimated that there will be global demand for 27,000 new passenger aircraft, worth around $3.7 trillion, by 2030. The UK strategy for aerospace makes specific reference to the potential for microwave curing to dramatically reduce energy usage and improve UK competitiveness. A considerable portion of the UK aircraft manufacturing industry is based around airframe manufacture, together with their supply chains. The development of well-understood, high-rate manufacturing methods for composites structures will be essential to strengthen the competitive position of UK high value manufacturing.

The key outstanding difficulty preventing the commercial uptake of composite manufacture by microwave methods is related to the uniformity of heating commercial scale parts (those that approach or exceeded the wavelength of the incident energy) and the control of the heating rate during fast curing. The research will focus on the use of modern control strategies, specifically model predictive control and machine vision in conjunction with innovative RF design to realise flight worthy parts in short timescales.

Our recent work in the area is at:

Applicants should hold a first degree or master’s level qualification in electronic engineering, control systems engineering, aerospace engineering or a closely related numerate discipline. Applications from candidates lacking formal qualification but having a body of relevant industrial experience are welcome.

Candidates must possess a strong mathematical background, be highly self-motivated and possess excellent organisation and time management skills.

This interdisciplinary project is a collaboration between the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering and the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing, both are part of the University of Sheffield. The AMRC with Boeing is part of the EPSRC High Value Manufacturing Catapult.

This is a self-funded opportunity. The candidate must pay the university fee and be able to support themselves, in the UK for the duration of the research.

A reduced fee is available for Sheffield Alumni. Exceptional candidates may be awarded a slightly reduced fee.

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Northern England