Lorry-borne advanced manufacturing demo goes on UK tour

A demonstration of advanced manufacturing and assembly technologies is touring the UK, mounted on a 14m-long articulated lorry.

The Manufacturing Technology Transporter, or Mantra, aims to introduce companies to the latest manufacturing tools and inspire young people to take up careers in engineering. The high-tech vehicle, which is outside London’s Olympia exhibition centre this week, is scheduled to visit more than 400 companies and 30 schools over the next three years.

One of Mantra’s highlights is a computerised multi-tooled lathe capable of machining complex precision parts to tolerances of thousandths of a millimetre. The cutting action is displayed by a special camera on a 60in plasma screen.

Another demonstration uses head-gear that allows users to experience interactive three dimensional computer models of complex machinery. Components can be removed and rotated in 3D space using a joystick designed to act like a hand.

The lorry also features research on advanced machining and assembly technologies, such as work done by a research team from the University of Sheffield and Rolls-Royce. They devised a new rig to reduce vibrations during the machining process, allowing material to be removed from casings nearly 20 times faster than before.

The team also showed that new ceramic cutting tools could work better than existing ones and demonstrated that by using particular machining techniques it is not necessary to employ environmentally damaging chemical-etching methods to achieve the required finish. They claimed the findings should directly save the manufacturer more than £1.5m each year and increase productivity significantly.

Mantra was set up by the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre with Boeing (AMRC). It was funded by a £500,000 award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and by industry sponsors.

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