Lead Forensics

Virtual factory develops new types of steel alloys

A partnership between Swansea University, Warwick University, WMG and Tata Steel is using virtual factories to discover ways to develop new steel alloys.

Steel is a common material used to manufacture equipment in the automotive industry, in construction and other industries. A heavy duty trolley manufacturer relies on tubular steel to fabricate durable and reliable manual handling equipment. Those in the industry rely on tubular steel, which is both strong yet lightweight, and when suitably coated, will not corrode.

The steel industry is constantly innovating to create new steel alloys in response to emerging technologies and the changing demands of customers. Developing new alloys is slow and time-consuming, with hundreds of potentials alloys produced in a steel plant that then have to be tested. The virtual factory project aims to make the innovation process faster so that new products can reach the market quickly.

The project combines physical testing with computer models that can predict the properties of new alloys. Called rapid alloy prototyping, the project has received £7m in funding to create a system that designs new materials in the research lab then tests them using computer models that can rapidly test hundreds of small samples for mechanical, electrical, and corrosion properties, as well as general strength.

Alloys the computer identifies as having the best properties can be investigated and could eventually be turned into new steel products. The system is reported to be about 100 faster and much cheaper than developing alloys in a steel plant.

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