Footprint Tools, a manufacturer of traditional hand tools in the United Kingdom, is at the heart of a research project that could see Sheffield spark a recycling revolution in industrial forging that unlocks a step-change in the manufacture of safety-critical components for the aerospace, defense and energy industries using machining waste and linear hammer technology.

The Sheffield-based company with 12 employees and two robots recently unveiled the latest addition to its Admiral Works’ facility: a state-of-the-art Schuler precision linear forge, the only one of its kind in the U.K. and one of only three in Europe, according to the equipment manufacturer.

As the centerpiece of a research-and-development partnership between the small family firm and two research institutions (The Henry Royce Institute (Royce) and the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), part of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland Group), the equipment will help consolidate Sheffield and the U.K.’s lead in advanced forging manufacture.

Following a gathering of the AFRC’s Forging and Forming Forum, where the R&D venture was announced, Royce Professor Martin Jackson said he was delighted that the Servo technology hammer found a home in Sheffield, the hub of the U.K.’s forging and forming industry.

“This raises forging technology to a completely new level,” Jackson said. “Our job at Royce and the AFRC is to take the knowledge we unlock from this R&D collaboration and roll it out to forging companies across the country, especially in the use of recycled machining waste such as titanium. 

“Sheffield has more titanium waste than anywhere in the U.K., yet we put it into ferro-titanium as an alloy addition. It is too good of a material to do that. That’s why Sheffield is leading the way in a forging revolution around recycling, putting us at the forefront of rapid near-net shaping from recycled materials. We are well ahead of China and the United States, and this should enable us to extend that lead. We can take waste material, rapidly consolidate it and forge it into near-net-shape parts that are not only made from recycled material but have properties far superior to other primary materials.”

Dr. Alastair Conway, head of operations at the AFRC, said, “We are delighted to have helped create this unique research partnership. We have so much to learn from the Footprint Tools’ team and so much to gain from our collaborative research with Jackson and his team at Royce as we take research out of academic institutions into the real world. The accuracy of the linear hammer could help us create a step-change in the production of safety-critical components in aerospace and related industries that have previously been nervous of hammer technology and the black arts often associated with its use.”

Richard Jewitt, director of Footprint Tools, said, “For firms like us in the region, this is an opportunity to develop more accurate and consistent processes, which could lead to more manufacturing reshoring and open new product export markets.”

Dr. Conway added, “People mistakenly think of forging as a technology of the past. It’s not. It’s a technology of the future. Next time you fly off on holiday, remember the two most important processes in aircraft manufacture are forging and machining. To generate the key properties in aerospace material you need to forge. This is a huge opportunity for Sheffield to strike a hammer blow for the use of recycled materials in some of the biggest markets on the planet that need decarbonizing.”

Based near Glasgow Airport, the AFRC is a globally recognized center of excellence in innovative forging and forming technologies. It has an outreach office in Sheffield’s Olympic Legacy Park and is part of the U.K.’s High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult.