An innovative Birmingham firm which provides parts for aerospace and specialist surgical procedures has been identified as a possible role model for regional businesses.
The verdict on Materials Solutions was delivered by the chairman of regional development agency Advantage West Midlands Nick Paul during a visit to the firm.
Mr Paul was visiting the company to witness the progress it had made since it was launched in October 2006 with the support of grants from AWM and the former Department of Trade and Industry’s Micro and Nano Technology programme.
Materials Solutions’ vision is to be a world leader in the development and deployment of advanced materials technologies-bridging the gap between basic research and commercial end users. Although the firm is not yet two years old it is already expanding its workforce and supplying components and devices to industries as diverse as Formula One motor racing, food manufacturing, aerospace and medical technology.
The first technology in-house is called ‘powder bed laser sintering’ and creates solid objects layer by layer from 3D computer Aided Design (CAD) files using an infra red laser and 20 micron layers of fine metal powers.
The core of the technology is a machine – called an M270 – developed in Germany by EOS GmbH and costing £350,000.
Materials Solutions has since used the M270 machines to produce components which it sells back into Germany.
“We are doing things in this technology that simply were not possible in the past,” said chief executive Carl Brancher. “We are manufacturing parts in high performance stainless steels, cobalt chrome and nickel super alloys.
“This is the step-change over similar technologies used for prototyping where a look-alike shape could be made, but not in the materials needed. Future developments include extending the range of materials to include titanium alloys,” he added.
Mr Brancher said the new technology held many advantages such as speed, accuracy and repeatability.
“Research and technology-led manufacturers are currently facing two significant challenges – the environment and the new Asian economies – both as consumers and manufacturers,” he said. “Environmental concerns and legislation are driving an urgent quest to reduce fuel consumption and emissions and the competitive threat of Asia requires rapid product development by European manufacturers.
“Our manufacturing process allows us to make complex parts in hours or days from a design file rather than the weeks and months required by conventional techniques,” he added. “This enables rapid design verification and testing of components under operating conditions.”