Two Mechanical Engineering students from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) have been exploring ways to extend the life of vital manufacturing tools as part of an embedded project with industry giants LISI Aerospace.
Robert Gainlall and Yizhao Liu, who have both now completed their final year at DMU, were tasked with researching specific designs and materials for a new, longer-lasting die tool, and reported directly to LISI’s Ondrej Polak and Taahir Patel in the process development team for technical feedback.
Dies are essential tools for manufacturing precision fasteners such as pins and bolts for aeroplanes, but their lifespan can vary for a range of complex reasons such as die design, usage and working conditions of the tools.
Working over a five-month period, the pair outlined their findings in a presentation to industry experts, where they discussed how the material composition and die features can impact the tool life.
Robert said: “Working on an embedded project was a great chance to put the skills I learned at DMU to the test in a real-world, high-pressured environment. It’s not every day you get to work so closely with industry experts for five months, so I was very excited when the opportunity came about.
“I took over the materials while Yizhao focused on design. We received the dies and tools to cut into it through the post as most of the project was done digitally. It gave us a greater understanding of the materials used within the aerospace industry and with the support of our tutors, Yizhao and I bounced ideas off each other as we prepared for our final presentation.
“To share this research and gain experience at such a renowned company has done wonders for my confidence. It’s enabled me to combine the theory I learnt during my studies with practical engineering skills, which I would not have experienced had I just done a dissertation.”
LISI Aerospace is a global manufacturing specialist for structural components and assembly solutions used for aircrafts, with 21 production sites across nine countries and a turnover of €1.23bn in 2020. From its UK base in nearby Rugby, the company approached DMU with the project.
Prior to the embedded project, the site based in Rugby noticed how some of its dies could produce substantially more parts before failing than others.
Taahir Patel said: “University students can often bring a fresh approach to a problem in the industry. At LISI, we’re always looking for ways to innovate our products, but there are times where we just don’t have the capacity to research solutions in as much depth as we would like.
“Expectations of Robert and Yizhao were high but they duly delivered, despite not having much time in the lab due to Covid. Both provided an interesting insight into how to improve the design and make use of better materials to ensure wear on the tools is greatly reduced.
“We’re already pursuing some of the material recommendations Robert put forward to us, which goes to prove just how valuable students can be to a team.”