Birmingham City University in the U.K. formed a strategic alliance with Meridian, the world’s largest producer of magnesium components, with the aim of showcasing magnesium as a viable alternative for luxury car makers and the aerospace industry. The two organizations will work together in the education, research, and development of magnesium use, which will place fuel efficiency through weight savings and sustainability at its core.
The partnership was agreed to on January 13th at Meridian’s Sutton-in-Ashfield plant with a delegation team from Birmingham City University led by Prof. Hanifa Shah, associate dean (Research and Enterprise), Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment, and the senior management team lead from Meridian Lightweight Technologies United Kingdom (MLTUK) by Randy Chalmers, plant manager, MLTUK.
Improving Manufacturing Methods
Meridian produces around 5,000 net metric tons of die-cast products annually at its Nottinghamshire, U.K. plant, serving automotive clients such as Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Ford, Honda, and Volvo. However, being able to offer bespoke magnesium components for low-volume manufacturers, such as Aston Martin, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce, can prove costly using current manufacturing methods, as the costs of tooling and set up become significant aspects of a project’s budget.
As part of the new partnership, academics from Birmingham City University’s faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment and personnel from Meridian will be investigating new ways to offer more sustainable components for low-volume manufacturers, whilst making production financially viable for Meridian and its potential clients.
“The strategic partnership we have signed with Birmingham City University is very much a first for us, but is one which we hope will pave the way for future expansion and sustenance with the institution as we seek to work together on our shared strengths in fuel efficiency and sustainability,” said Chalmers. “As being one the world’s leading suppliers of innovative, lightweight cast metal solutions for the transportation industry, it is imperative that we remain at the forefront of the machining and casting capabilities of magnesium. Our partnership with Birmingham City University will certainly catalyze this, allowing us to benefit from its leading edge research in the field and ensuring that the next generation of engineers continue to experiment with new ways in which to utilize the metal.”
In order for this to come to fruition, the University has established the Magnesium Innovation Group. From this group, ten academics have been partnered with Meridian employees that best represent their area of expertise, and they will be actively engaging with their partner in the industry for the first half of 2017.
Two psychologists from the University’s Faculty of Business, Law and Social Sciences have also been appointed to the Magnesium Innovation Group. They will spend time interviewing engineers from across the UK and try to understand why there has been a historical aversion to designing products with magnesium, when compared to less sustainable and heavier metals.
Research findings from the Magnesium Innovation Group will be published ahead of a major international magnesium conference, which will be held at Birmingham City University in July of this year.
Future Uses for Magnesium
Current magnesium die casting processes create the same amount of waste material as finished product. The Birmingham City University Magnesium Innovation Group will be investigating ways on how value can be created from this excess material.
Although magnesium is 100% recyclable, there are currently no plants in the U.K. that can process the scrap material. However, there is a possibility, for example, that it could be crushed for tablets to be used in the health industry.
Other ideas being discussed at Birmingham City University include reacting magnesium with oxygen and water to create hydrogen, which could be used in the fledgling fuel cell industry, powering cars and smartphones in the future.
“Birmingham City University is delighted to be entering into an agreement on magnesium research and education with Meridian, that builds on the heritage of the University as a catapult for growth among regional industries through knowledge transfer and offering a unique, interdisciplinary approach,” said Prof. Shah. “As well as benefiting Meridian’s work here in the Midlands, we hope that our findings can enhance lightweight technologies around the world, ensuring that low-volume manufacturers in the automobile and aerospace industries have access to cost-effective and sustainable magnesium components.”