Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC)



October 11, 2021

The University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Center (AMRC) is accelerating decarbonization of the transport sector and pushing the UK further towards net zero by reducing assembly and escalation risks production of hydrogen fuel cells for the aerospace, automotive and rail industries.

The £ 600,000 Hydrogen Electric Propulsion Systems (HEPS) test bed, based at AMRC Cymru in North Wales, will lead to the industrialization of green technology by harnessing the expertise of the ‘CDMA design for manufacture in a fuel cell assembly test bed where technologies and technologies from industry 4.0 process inspection techniques will optimize the assembly process.

“Hydrogen fuel cells can address major challenges for the transportation industry as it searches for alternatives to the internal combustion engine,” said Lee Wheeler, head of hydrogen technology at AMRC Cymru. “However, the current cost of manufacturing and assembling fuel cells is incredibly high, which means there is a lack of adoption.

“We want to support companies that want to make the clean energy transition to hydrogen electric propulsion systems by offering them a facility where they can use advanced manufacturing techniques to assemble and verify their product, and then eventually integrate it into their vehicles. . “

Like battery electric vehicles (BEVs), fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) run on electric power. However, while BEVs take hours to recharge to maintain this supply, FCEVs burn hydrogen which can be refueled in minutes. The byproduct of the chemical reaction is water vapor, which means that in operation, fuel cells are a zero carbon propulsion system that can generate electricity as long as the fuel is supplied.

The High Value Manufacturing (HVM) catapult, of which the AMRC is one of seven centers across the UK, funded the project which specifically targets seven industries: aerospace, power generation, heavy automotive, off-highway, public transport and rail.

Work on the HEPS test bench is guided by an industry steering committee that includes major global manufacturers including BAE Systems, GKN, Rolls-Royce and Toyota, as well as smaller companies such as vehicle manufacturers. Electric Wave Industries, Hypermotive and Riversimple. The board of directors was assembled by the AMRC to ensure the work is relevant to the industry and responds to the real world manufacturing challenges associated with this technology.

Stuart Dawson, chief hydrogen engineer at AMRC, says the technology has enormous potential and is high on the government’s agenda after the release of its hydrogen strategy in August, which estimated that the he hydrogen economy could be worth £ 900million and support over 9,000 jobs by 2030.

“The government has shown real intention by releasing the UK’s first-ever hydrogen strategy, promising to lay the groundwork for a low-carbon hydrogen economy over the next decade and to support innovation to massively increase the production of low-carbon hydrogen.

“Battery technologies well suited to electric cars are not necessarily well suited for use in heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) because of the long immobilization of vehicles during charging and the weight of the batteries required to power large vehicles over long periods of time. long distances. Lightweight hydrogen fuel cells are ideal for electrifying long-haul vehicles due to their long range and faster refueling than BEVs. At AMRC, we now need to enable companies to flexibly and competitively manufacture these hydrogen propulsion systems. “

Lee says the current fuel cell production process is extremely labor intensive and the UK supply chain for the technology is immature.

He said, “Assembling this type of system involves a lot of manual labor and little automation, which makes it prohibitively expensive. Internal combustion engines are currently cheaper to manufacture, and as a country we need to provide people with an affordable alternative.

‘There is a real need for this type of center to support small businesses looking to explore this technology and use an already highly skilled workforce to make the UK a more competitive place to build fuel cells. . “

The HEPS facility will have a self-contained assembly area in the AMRC Cymru workshop, containing collaborative robots, in-process verification capability and other Industry 4.0 equipment. Construction of the test bench is currently scheduled to be completed by January 2022, with the first assembly project hoping to start in April next year.

The CDMA team will explore how to reduce risk, industrialize and scale the assembly of hydrogen fuel cells and electrolyzers by applying advanced manufacturing processes and the AMRC’s automation capabilities, digital verification, in-process and design for manufacturing.

“We anticipate that some of the assembly operations will not be able to be automated in their current design, which is why our design optimization skills are essential,” said Stuart.

“Ultimately, we want to drive the industrialization of this technology, reduce component and assembly costs, and accelerate industry adoption with globally competitive manufacturing methods here in the UK. United. “

Lee says the steering committee is leading the work of the HEPS benchmark and how the AMRC can position itself to best support them.

He said: “We have gathered valuable information on current issues in the industry, the overall manufacturing position of these systems in the UK, as well as the technology and equipment required. They help us tailor the service we offer as we originally wanted to focus on fuel cell assembly, but the board told us they would like to do both assembly and testing. performance in our center.

“Manufacturers are also very attentive to taking into account ‘throughout the life’ of the components that we must take into account; not only do we need to study the assembly of fuel cells, but we also need to consider how we can take them apart, refurbish them, reuse them and recycle them.

AMRC Cymru is a £ 20million state-of-the-art R&D center that opened in 2019 to provide an open innovation hub for manufacturers in Wales. Supported by the Welsh government, AMRC Cymru is the first HVM Catapult center in Wales.

AMRC Cymru Research Director Andy Silcox said: “There is nothing like the HEPS test stand currently available in the HVM Catapult and we see it as a key capability for AMRC Cymru. There is real interest in this technology among companies in Wales and the North of England; We want our facility to be the place to go for hydrogen fuel cell assembly research, so we need to invest our HVM Catapult funding wisely and address the real challenges of the industry.

“By combining AMRC’s expertise in advanced manufacturing technologies with the knowledge of the industrial steering committee, we can establish a springboard for the industrialization of electric hydrogen and help build a sustainable and sustainable transportation sector. green. ”

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