Mon, 14 September, 2020
Automotive giants, Ford have joined the TWI Research Board, allowing them to have direct input into the Core Research Programme activities of TWI.
The Research Board is comprised of expert representatives from many of the biggest names in industry and these global names ensure that TWI’s research maintains industrial relevance.
Ford are also Industrial Members of TWI, which allows them to use TWI’s expertise and services for a range of projects.
Alan Banks from Ford was kind enough to take some time to explain more about joining the Research Board and how it will help them achieve their goals in the future.
Most people will have already heard of Ford, but can you explain what attracted you to becoming Industrial Members of TWI?
Ford were already Members of TWI before I came onto the research board. I think as a world class automotive company, it makes total sense to be involved with world class organisations. As such, it kind of begs the question, ‘Why wouldn’t we become an Industrial Member of TWI’? Our business is the engineering, production and sale of automotive products and mobility services. Those products are among the most advanced in the industry, so staying abreast of cutting-edge technology is important to stay competitive and relevant. We are in a period of unprecedented change – and that was before Covid – so actively working with industry expertise is the obvious choice.
What do you hope to gain from working with TWI?
TWI is almost a misnomer as TWI offer so much more than welding expertise. When I became aware of TWI and joined the research board, I was amazed to discover the breadth and depth of the technical expertise afforded by TWI – from additive manufacturing to composite materials, testing and training. I’ve been a mechanical engineer my whole life and for the last 30 years have worked exclusively on commercial vehicles. As the automotive industry completes its journey towards electrification and zero emissions, it will be important to offset the extra weight that electrification brings. This is important on car platforms, but I see it as imperative for commercial vehicles. Every extra kilo the vehicle weighs is one kilo less payload for our customers. With 3.5T driving licence restrictions, we need to ensure we can meet customer needs. This will mean developing lightweight material solutions that will require advanced research and joining. It was very gratifying to learn that TWI research into advanced material joining and joining of dissimilar materials is already well advanced as this technology will be key to keeping the vehicles affordable.
In addition to becoming Industrial Members, Ford has also gained representation on the TWI Research Board, what do you think this will bring to our partnership and what do you think you can bring to the Board?
The research board opened my eyes to some incredibly interesting technical papers. Despite my 37 years in the industry, I wouldn’t call myself an expert on welding or joining by any means, so seeing the research papers to edit and feedback before they are published, really highlights to me the depth of knowledge and continuous research being performed. And of course, we get to see past and published papers that are still relevant. We are also going to be working with TWI for on-site training and seminars for all our sites to get the correct exposure of latest technology and innovation. This is a reciprocal exercise of course and engineers and teams will be encouraged to bring innovation and development issues to TWI for help in resolving. We see this partnership as a two-way exercise, and it should bring dividends for both sides and we want both sides to maximise our learning and development. Ford can bring real-world and priority development issues to ensure that TWI can focus on an immediate resolution as well as advanced research.
Why do you feel it is important for industry to have a say in the direction of the research undertaken by organisations such as TWI?
I think the research undertaken by TWI is extremely important and the innovations that have been achieved are truly incredible. But without industrial input the relevance of the research is bound to be put into question. In the current climate, especially in automotive for mass production, we will have immediate and future requirements that need addressing. Without understanding this, research could be focussed in a direction that we wouldn’t see as a priority. And this is true in every sector – not just automotive. As a Research and Technical Organisation (RTO), TWI offer the background and solutions to a lot of development and it’s important that we collaborate to innovate as this protects us both well into the future.
There are a lot of environmental goals associated with the automotive industry, including a much heralded move towards electrification, but what do you see as the future of the auto industry, and how do you think TWI can help you achieve this?
As I’ve said, we are in a period of unprecedented change. The drive to electrification brings new innovations every day. The environmental impacts of this regarding tailpipe emissions are obvious, but what’s less obvious is the CO2 impact around the wider industry for mining the cobalt and nickel to manufacture the powerpacks and then ship them around the globe. Energy intensive production is going to be required for advanced materials and manufacturing processes, so a cradle to grave life-cycle analysis will be imperative. If we generate more CO2 in a vehicle’s production than it would have emitted through a traditional engine, then we would have failed. It needs the whole of the industry, from universities and RTOs to mass producers to come together and solve these problems. We have a common goal and a common problem and a collaborative approach will be the only way to solve them. TWI, as an RTO, have access to the cross-industry research and will be ideally placed to help not only solve the problems but also to provide links across sectors to ensure a sustainable economy.