Work begins on FASTBLADE composites research centre

The first major engineering works on a composite structures research facility FASTBLADE will begin this July.

Edinburgh Innovations

It is a partnership between the University of Edinburgh and Babcock International Group, supported by Edinburgh Innovations.

A team of Babcock engineers will begin construction of FASTBLADE’s 75 tonne structural reaction frame early this month, and will begin fit-out of the new facility, based at Babcock’s Rosyth site.

It will initially carry out lifetime fatigue testing of renewable energy tidal turbine blades.

Reportedly, it will use a pioneering technology which will be the first of its kind in the world.

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Partnership development

The £4.1-million facility gets backing from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the University, with Babcock as the principal engineering designer.

Edinburgh Innovations has proactively supported the development of the partnership between the University and Babcock for more than two years.

With its novel technology FASTBLADE will be an international centre of innovation in the research and testing of composite materials and structures for a variety of industries such as tidal energy, marine, transport, nuclear and aerospace.

Digital and hydraulic technology systems developed by the University are more energy efficient and will simulate real testing environments.

Advanced analytics will assess structural performance in real time.

Engineers will build and assemble the reaction frame, measuring 16.2 metres long, 2.5 metres wide and 7.1 metres high.

It should be complete by December 2020.

Tidal blade testing

The frame will withstand huge forces cycled millions of times over its lifespan as it tests composite structures.

Its design is for future needs as structures such as tidal turbine blades become bigger and also materials develop.

It should offer benefits for product developers, with savings on time and costs, reducing risk and improving safety.

FASTBLADE will help meet requirements to develop digital skills in the region as set by the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

It is part of a transformational programme approach to skills – going from school leavers through to further and higher education.

The City Region Deal also aims to increase research-based collaboration between universities and industry.

Professor Conchúr Ó Brádaigh, head of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, said:

“This collaboration is a real opportunity to develop the next generation of engineers that industry will need and will be a resource for apprentices and engineering students to capture real-time data from industrial-scale equipment in the classroom.

“This is a significant milestone towards this unique facility opening for business to the global composites manufacturing market.

“The reaction frame is the backbone of the FASTBLADE system, holding clients’ structures in place in order to carry out research and testing.”

Neil Young, a technology director at Babcock, also said:

“We’re bringing together the best engineering minds with technology innovation from the University of Edinburgh.”

“We have optimised the facility design in partnership with the University and the next step is the physical build of the facility which, when complete, will be a world-class centre of innovation in composite testing, as well as a fatigue test facility for developers.”

Finally, FASTBLADE should be fully assembled and operational in 2021.