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Long-term Partnership Delivers Impact for Global Engineering

Brunel University London and TWI Ltd have a longstanding relationship, based on shared values, that dates back to 2009 when they first recognised the potential in pooling their experience and expertise for the benefit of global engineering.

Brunel University London is a world-class university based in Uxbridge whose history can be traced back to 1798 through its several predecessor colleges and the West London Institute of Higher Education. It was subsequently awarded a Royal Charter, becoming a university in 1966, and combines academic rigour with the practical, entrepreneurial and imaginative approach pioneered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the great British engineers of the 19th century. Today, Brunel University London has some 12,700+ students.

TWI is one of the world’s leading, foremost, independent research and technology organisations, and celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2021. It provides advice, knowhow and safety assurance for engineering, materials and joining technologies, helping industries to design, operate and manage the best products and systems possible. TWI also serves around 600 Industrial Member companies, and 6,000+ individual Members of separate professional body, The Welding Institute.

Knowing that ability to innovate is the life-blood of global engineering, Brunel University London and TWI decided to focus their first partnership endeavour on harnessing the power of innovation. Simultaneously, they were also confident that pursuing joint research and development (R&D) activities could generate proprietary new technologies and deliver powerful impact in due course. This then led to the creation of the academia-industry ‘innovation centre’ model.

Against this backdrop, the two parties also started to consider what the engineering profession itself might look like in the years ahead and whether there was a means by which they could jointly contribute to supporting the next generation of future engineers. Based on Brunel University London’s academic track record and affiliation with engineering, and TWI’s engineering heritage, additionally backed by many years’ experience providing international training and certification services, the idea for a new type of post graduate centre started to crystallise.


The objectives of the innovation centre model were to:

  • Create an engineering technologies research resource that sits between the knowledge base and industry, facilitating high quality R&D in an innovative environment and supporting collaborative partners to transfer academic research into industrial applications
  • Generate a portfolio of engineering technologies projects demonstrating industrial breakthrough and relevance, based on multinational, interdisciplinary expertise, and utilising national and international platforms


The objectives of the post graduate centre model were to:

  • Establish a unique research facility, embedded in industry, for post graduate education to train the next generation of researchers and engineers, in partnership with leading UK universities
  • Develop a critical mass of R&D steered by the needs of industry, in particular across the field of structural integrity, thereby accelerating the translation of science into commercial products, systems and technologies
  • Support UK science and innovation through novel post graduate programmes aligned to industrial need


The two partners realised their original idea by establishing Brunel Innovation Centre (BIC) in 2009.  Based at TWI Cambridge, UK, with a team of international engineers and researchers, the Centre has now delivered over 60 collaborative R&D projects, enabled by its repeated success in securing competitive grant funding from instruments such as Innovate UK, and the EU’s Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe, in conjunction with dedicated project consortia comprising like-minded SMEs and RTOs from the UK and Europe.  BIC’s fields of expertise include robotics, machine learning, digital twin, power ultrasonic technologies, smart non-destructive testing (NDT), structural health and condition monitoring, hardware and software design, signal and image processing, sensors, structural integrity assessment for offshore structures, and fatigue and fracture analysis.

Then in 2012, when TWI, Lloyd’s Register Foundation and BP jointly formed the National Structural Integrity Research Centre (NSRIC) to provide PhDs in the field of structural integrity engineering, Brunel University London was the ideal choice for the role of lead academic partner and joined the team. The setup of NSIRC was supported by securing funding from both the UK Government’s Regional Growth Fund (RGF) and a Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) scheme, the latter by Brunel University London. The funds enabled the construction of a dedicated, state-of-the-art building, with fully equipped engineering laboratories (see Figure 1), and setup of all operations and the PhD programme. Over time, the range of PhD topics offered in conjunction with different UK universities expanded, and Brunel University London also launched a new NSIRC MSc programme in 2015 and a new Engineering CPD course in 2023.

Meanwhile, based on BIC’s flourishing R&D output, and Brunel University London and TWI having identified a gap for new engineering technologies in relation to the field of composites, in 2016, the partners established a second innovation centre at TWI Cambridge, namely the Brunel Composites Centre (BCC). Since then, BCC has also demonstrated notable success in winning grant funding for collaborative R&D, having delivered notable projects for multiple sectors, including automotive, aviation and aerospace, shipping, additive manufacturing, renewable energy and upcycling, and innovative projects involving materials such as graphene and thermoplastics. The BCC team focuses on developing novel composites processing and joining technologies across Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 1-6, for application in industrial environments.


Brunel Innovation Centre (BIC)
Brunel Innovation Centre (BIC)
Brunel Composites Centre (BCC)
Brunel Composites Centre (BCC)
National Structural Integrity Research Centre (NSIRC)
National Structural Integrity Research Centre (NSIRC)


Over the last 15 years, Brunel Innovation Centre has cemented its position as an innovator, illustrated by a project portfolio that has enabled advancements in major sectors including infrastructure, renewable energy, rail, shipping, healthcare, marine, power, manufacturing and agriculture, oil and gas, and construction. Recent projects include:

SWAG: Soft wearable assistive garments for human empowerment – a new approach to engineering soft structures, using inflatable materials made from high-strength fabrics and films rather than fully rigid materials, for the manufacture of human-assistive exoskeletal devices to support the strain-prone lower body and core in human beings.

SafeXtend: AI-powered virtual reality construction training environment and platform – an immersive new training platform powered by AI for use by the construction industry, utilising realistic 3D modelling of construction sites, tailored to address different training needs such as health and safety, equipment operation, particular processes and work-place skills, thereby helping to address the low engagement rate of construction workers with both e-learning and in-person training courses.

Soni-Laser: Ultrasonic assisted laser welding for high volume assembly of automotive battery packs – welding process optimisation for the production of connections between battery cells, in the types of battery most commonly used in electric vehicles (EVs), and development of a novel, generic technology for the materials processing of fluid and semi fluid phases that is widespread in manufacturing.

From 2012 onwards, the National Structural Integrity Research Centre went from strength-to-strength, exceeding expectations, and enabling 190+ PhD and 170+ MSc students to undertake postgraduate studies in an industrial setting. Other notable achievements are that females represent 32% of NSIRC PhD students, compared to a UK engineering workforce female representation of 16.5% and there is a 100% employment rate for PhD students within one year of graduating. NSIRC students have also collectively generated 880+ publications and produced research that has contributed to 13 Standards updates.

Both BIC and BCC have also been able to offer a substantial number of NSIRC students the opportunity to undertake their PhD studies working on projects within their centres.

In September 2022, NSIRC International was founded, building on the success of NSIRC in the UK, and extending the PhD programme model out to countries and territories overseas. To date, MoUs have been signed with eight universities in six countries and there are new Centres in Greece, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India thus far.

Over time, Brunel Composites Centre has also produced an impressive project portfolio, elevating what is achievable in the development and application of new composites technologies. Notable project examples include:

EMPHASIZING: Enhancing material properties of recycled glass fibres through sizing – novel reactor to recycle end-of-life wind and marine components at a low cost, with low environmental impact, while also removing the need for harmful chemicals during composites recycling and reducing the requirement for incineration, in turn diverting composites from landfill. Clean glass fibres resulting from recycling are then ready to be deployed in the manufacture of brand new components.

IMPHORAA: Implementation of photovoltaics through innovative mini-grid expansion model –amplifying the use of renewable nano-grids in the Philippines and Madagascar to support income growth and the development of sustainable communities, contributing to 2030 UN Sustainable Agenda Goals. The project includes a micro-entrepreneurship model for rural community members, female-supporting best practice, feasibility, critical assessment of long-term impact and an expansion strategy for large scale implementation of the technologies employed.

ESENSE: Out of autoclave, self-heated tooling enabling temperature homogeneity and embedded graphene sensors – targeted at the aerospace sector and focused on the development of a smart tooling solution with process monitoring and through-life sensing capabilities, able to achieve temperature homogeneity when producing complex shapes and manufacture composite parts without the need for costly, energy-intensive autoclaves.


The partnership between Brunel University London and TWI has stood the test of time, originating and disseminating a huge body of proprietary industrial research over a 15+ year period through innovative projects, published papers and international conference proceedings. This contributes to engineering technologies innovation worldwide and the collective need for industry to effectively address key, universal challenges such as the drive for net zero, service life extension of assets in harsh operating environments and automating large-scale manufacturing to address workforce shortages.

Simultaneously, through NSIRC, hundreds of individuals have been able to enhance their career pathway through the achievement of postgraduate-level qualifications, supporting their own personal development as well as contributing to the wider engineering profession.

TWI Innovation Centres and NSIRC (International and in the UK) are pillars of the TWI Innovation Network (TWIIN), TWI’s innovation ecosystem for collaborative R&D. Visit the TWIIN website to find out more, including how your company can join the Network and get involved in engineering technologies acceleration.

PhD students working in the NSIRC engineering laboratories.
PhD students working in the NSIRC engineering laboratories.

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