Editor's note: Professor Dragos Axinte holds a professorship of Manufacturing Engineering at both the University of Nottingham Ningbo China (UNNC) and the University of Nottingham UK campus. At UNNC, he co-leads the Advanced and Intelligent Manufacturing Group, which is one of the key research groups at the Faculty of Science and Engineering. The group focuses on developing research in niche and innovative manufacturing technologies for high value products.
Can you explain your research?
My research covers quite a broad area including machining of difficult-to-cut materials, and associated methods to evaluate the workpiece surface quality and integrity for high value-added components.
My unique expertise, which is also my research interest, lies at the intersection between machining technology and material science. For example, I have particular interest in the assessment of the part surface integrity after a wide range of machining operations. I focus on the in-depth phenomena, to understand why a part behaves in a particular way after machining.
What challenges is your research hoping to tackle?
The surface integrity of a part is critical to the part’s functionality and long-term performance. Up to now, most people have studied the changes on workpiece surface integrity after machining at a macro-level. But very few would look at the micro and nano level – to assess the in-depth metallurgical and micro-mechanical changes of the material. This is of great importance especially when manufacturing safety-critical hardware components such as those for propulsion systems or energy generation.
In the recent years, we have put a new dimension to this research by examining the nano-level phenomena happening in workpieces due to manufacturing process, and have managed to achieve quite interesting results.
By putting a scientific basis to why the part could fail, we helped our industry partners to optimise the machining process, so that the part could have a longer service life.
What specific research projects are you conducting to tackle the above challenges?
I cover a wide range of research projects; all of them were launched out of pure curiosity. At UNNC, I am particularly focused on machining of the advanced composite materials, such as metallic matrix and polymer composites, which are mostly used for automotive and aerospace hardware.
Composites have many constituents in their structures, and when being machined, those elements react differently to the thermo-mechanical loads caused by machining operations.
Advanced and Intelligent Manufacturing Research Group
It’s interesting to see the interactions between these heterogeneous elements of the material during machining and how the damages in the workpiece surface initiate and propagate to the bulk material, and further how to control all these for maximising the part functional performance.
We have attracted industry partners ranging from automotive companies to machine tool builders and cutting tool manufacturers. Our research has helped them to better conduct the machining operation in order to improve the component quality and the product service life.
Can you give a brief introduction of your research team?
Our team has a broad expertise from conventional/non-conventional machining to fluid dynamics and heat and mass transfer. What makes us unique is not only that we have “hard manufacturing” experts, who understand the fundamentals of the processes and how to efficiently produce high-quality components, but also people in the fields of machine tools, robotics, product design and human factors.
This combination of skills makes us pretty unique in the manufacturing arena because whatever manufacturing-related problem you throw to us, whether it has elements of applied mathematics, physics or material science, we can tackle it.
Can you share any interesting stories about your research?
This is one of the reasons why I’m involved in the research at UNNC, because there are full of enthusiastic young people with brilliant minds.
Yue (Yolanda) Yang is the student who solved the "problem".
Read her story
Some years ago, I had a very interesting manufacturing research problem that others passed by for decades or addressed in a very simplistic and inaccurate way. Nevertheless, this required attention to details on how the real process happens and then to mathematically treat it.
I passed this problem to a couple of researchers in UK and tried to excite them to pick it up; this lasted about three years. When I came to UNNC, I recruited a PhD student to work on this problem, and believe it or not, she solved it in three months with all necessary steps done, from experiments to modelling.
Researchers here are excited about what they are doing – they’re breaking the barriers that others overlook. They have the attitude of challenging all thinking.
Where would you like to take your research next?
For our future research, I would like to look deeper into the nano-level damage in materials caused by manufacturing, and use new “machining-like” material testing methods to enhance the workpiece surface quality.
By doing this, we will develop better machining process and bring the knowledge from lab to land, so that our industrial partners can develop stronger, more reliable products with a longer service life.