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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/L505225/1
Title: Automated Manufacturing Process Integrated with Intelligent Tooling Systems (AUTOMAN)
Principal Investigator: Pham, Professor D
Other Investigators:
Saadat, Dr M Cripps, Dr R
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Mechanical Engineering
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Scheme: Technology Programme
Starts: 01 February 2014 Ends: 30 April 2017 Value (£): 286,814
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Manufact. Enterprise Ops& Mgmt Manufacturing Machine & Plant
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
Large 3D panels are used on the bodies of cars, trains, ships and aircraft and for building interiors and facades. The

Beijing Olympic Bird's Nest Stadium provides a high-profile example of a construction employing 3D panels. The world

market for large 3D panels is worth billions of pounds and could grow manifold if cost-effective and sustainable methods of

panel production are available.

UK companies invest billions of pounds annually in dedicated tooling to manufacture 3D panels in a variety of materials.

The dies and moulds needed to produce such panels are time consuming to fabricate, involving extensive manufacturing

trials. Tools are normally associated with specific parts and, when they change, the old tools are discarded or have to be

dismounted and then stored. Thus, there are high levels of scrapped material, space and time wastage associated with

traditional tools. This makes current panel production techniques inefficient for small-batch production which is typical in

the manufacture of high-value products (e.g. sports cars, ships and aircraft).

Multi-Point Die Forming (MPDF) is a technology pioneered at MIT to enable die surfaces to be modified to generate

different component forms without requiring tool changes. MPDF involves using a matrix of pins to represent the die

surfaces. These can be varied before the forming operation by pre-adjusting the lengths of the pins. The setting of the pin

lengths in existing MPDF systems is a laborious trial-and-error process and thus these systems are not readily


This project will develop the world's first fully reconfigurable tooling system with in-process sensing and adaptation

capability. This advanced system will incorporate pins that are actuated so that their lengths can be automatically adjusted

during forming to enable more precise control of the process. It will include sensors and on-line modelling, metrology and

reverse engineering to ensure the production of accurate and defect-free panels. This new system will be usable for press

stamping and stretch-drawing operations as well as supporting and locating flexible composite panels during assembly.

The proposed system will have the following innovative features not found in prototypes developed to date:

- full programmability, in the in-process reconfiguration of the tool to generate tool surfaces digitally and to enable different

forming operations to be carried out;

- advanced modelling to support reconfiguration to increase quality and setup efficiency;

- on-line metrology to provide in-process information on real part geometry, considering machine and tool deflection and

part spring back;

- compensation of spring back and deflection to enable net-shape manufacturing;

- measures for ensuring part integrity including accurate geometry, limited residual stresses and high quality surface finish;

- localised heating to allow forming of various materials including composites.

The reconfigurable tooling system developed in the project will demonstrate the following benefits compared to current


- an increase in 3D panel manufacturing efficiency by 50%-100%;

- panel manufacturing cost savings of over 80%;

- overall material and energy savings of 30%-50% over the product life-cycle.

This project will be carried out in the Schools of Mechanical Engineering and of Metallurgy and Materials at the University

of Birmingham, the Department of Design, Manufacture & Engineering Management at the University of Strathclyde and

three industrial partners with the support of the High-Value Manufacturing Catapult and a Knowledge Transfer Network.

This complete chain linking organisations involved in research, equipment design and manufacture, knowledge transfer

and end use ensures the relevance of the work and rapid dissemination and exploitation of the results.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Date Materialised
Sectors submitted by the Researcher
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Project URL:  
Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.bham.ac.uk