Dr Nick Weston's focus is on the novel solid-state downstream processing and this led to the development of FAST-forge, a cost-effective hybrid processing route to take titanium alloy powder/particulate to near-net-shape components in two simple steps. The first step is to use Field Assisted Sintering Technology (FAST), also known as Spark Plasma Sintering (SPS), to rapidly consolidate titanium alloy powder into a shaped preform billet. The geometries and microstructures produced via FAST in isolation are not those typically required for finished structural components. Therefore, the second step then uses a precision hot forging operation to finish the preform to the required component shape and improve the microstructure and mechanical properties.
It is envisaged that through the use of finite element simulation, it will be possible to produce the preform FAST billet in an optimized shape that will allow not only a flashless near-net-shape forging operation but also ensure the correct levels of strain are imparted into desired areas, potentially opening the door for components with functionally graded microstructures and therefore properties.
Dr Weston is currently working on a collaborative R&D project part-funded by Innovate UK as part of the "Game-changing technologies for aerospace" funding call, which was developed in conjunction with the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) to accelerate the commercialization of highly innovative technologies for civil aerospace. The project is titled "FAST-forge - From rutile sand to novel titanium alloy aerospace component in 3 steps" and has four partners: Safran Landing Systems UK Ltd., Metalysis Ltd., Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC at the University of Strathclyde), and The University of Sheffield. The project aim is to develop low-cost titanium forgings for aerospace (also suitable for use in other industries/applications) and achieve Technology Readiness Level 3.