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Dr. Nick Weston

Departmental Profile:
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Position:
Research Associate

Research Area:
FAST-forge

I started my research career after graduating with an MEng in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Sheffield in 2011.

In 2011 I commenced studying for a PhD in Metallurgy as part of the Advanced Metallic Systems Centre for doctoral training (www.metallicscdt.co.uk). My thesis was entitled ‘A novel solid-state processing route to generate cost-effective titanium alloy components’, supervised by Dr. Martin Jackson, with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) as an industrial partner.

In 2016 I became a post-doctoral researcher in the STAR group. My principal research interest is the continuing development of field assisted sintering technology (FAST) as part of a cost-effective processing route, termed FAST-forge, to produce low-cost titanium alloy components for a range of applications with a variety of powder and particulate feedstocks. This will allow the utilisation of titanium’s unique combination of properties in industries where its high price has historically restricted usage.

Current Research

My current research continues the work developed during my PhD and involves moving towards producing more cost-effective titanium alloy components.

Titanium alloys have many useful properties that would make them beneficial in multiple applications, however their current high cost severely limits utilisation. Therefore, lowering the price to a point where titanium alloys can compete with commodity metals is of great research interest. We believe that to achieve a step‑change in the economics of titanium it is necessary to combine a lower‑cost feedstock, possibly from an alternative extraction method to the sixty‑year‑old Kroll process, with a novel solid‑state downstream processing route.

My 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 component 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 optimised shape that will allow not only a flashless near net-shape forging operation, but also to ensure the correct levels of strain are imparted into desired areas; potentially opening the door for components with functionally graded microstructures and therefore properties.

Current Project

I'm 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 commercialisation 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.