Singapore’s first corporate laboratory in a university, the Rolls-Royce@NTU Corporate Laboratory was jointly set up by Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore), Rolls-Royce and the National Research Foundation (NRF) in 2013. It has successfully completed its first five years of research partnership and is now moving into its next phase with a joint investment of S$88 million.
The Corp Lab was the first to be supported under the Singapore public-private research and development (R&D) partnership between universities and companies. In Phase 1, it managed 53 research projects in areas such as power electronics, data analytics, and repair and manufacturing technologies.
The research outcomes from these projects are now being used to help design and develop future power and propulsion systems and improve manufacturing operations in Singapore and in other global sites of Rolls-Royce.
The Corp Lab also developed digital solutions using artificial intelligence (AI). This has led to a new virtual engine emulator that uses AI to analyse decades of engine design data to harvest new insights. This greatly reduces the design cycle time as the system can automatically generate design options based on desired features, allowing engine designers to select promising candidates that can be further optimised to create future aircraft engines.
Riding on the success of Phase 1, NTU and Rolls-Royce are renewing their partnership in the lab’s second phase with 29 ambitious projects focused on developing novel technologies that will power the future of aircraft propulsion.
NTU President Professor Subra Suresh, said, “The Rolls-Royce@NTU Corp Lab is a fine demonstration of NTU scientists working with industry to develop relevant solutions to meet real-world issues. The first phase of research has met with remarkable success, yielding more than 50 research projects that can create significant impact in the aerospace industry. Building on that success, we are moving into the second phase with renewed commitment and new projects that will elevate our collaboration to the next level. We will build on various areas which are part of NTU’s core strengths, such as in alternative energy storage solutions, machine learning and AI, and big data analysis.”
Ramping-Up Innovations In Electrification, Digitalisation
The 29 new projects will make use of Industry 4.0 technologies – connecting computers, machines and engines, generating valuable data that will enhance design, manufacturing, maintenance, services, and operations.
For example, to predict an aircraft’s performance and its need for maintenance, projects will use AI and Data Science to process large amounts of data spanning product design specifications, and material quality and durability, including equipment degradation and the environmental conditions during operation. This data-driven approach will streamline and optimise design and manufacturing processes and ensure that the final products have high levels of safety and reliability.
A key objective of the projects is to develop technologies that are eco-friendly, efficient, and sustainable. For example, the team will look at developing innovative energy storage solutions to enable hybrid-electric aircraft. This will accelerate the adoption of alternative energy systems in the aerospace industry.
To support manufacturing, the Rolls-Royce@NTU Corp Lab will focus on enhancing efficiency in some of the key manufacturing processes such as “vibratory finishing” or “vibropolishing” – a mass finishing process used to deburr, burnish, clean, and brighten large quantities of relatively small work pieces. The team is exploring ways to combine “vibropolishing” with ‘vibropeening’ – a process that hardens the surfaces of components, further increasing the material’s durability.
The lab will also address challenges involved in 3D printing and additive manufacturing technologies, such as finishing and polishing processes for internal 3D-printed components. It aims to enhance and streamline manufacturing involving 3D printing in order to open up more room for creativity and innovation.
Overall, the projects will address problems that are faced by the aerospace industry through five key pillars: i) Electrical, ii) Manufacturing Technology, iii) Advanced Repair and Materials, iv) Data Analytics and Complex Systems, and v) Internet of Things.
The Rolls-Royce@NTU Corp Lab provides an industry-driven platform for university students at all levels – PhD, Masters and undergraduate – to become next-generation engineers. In the first phase, the Corp Lab trained 40 PhD students and more than 200 Masters and undergraduate students.
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