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Composites researchers engineer new collaborative structures

ACCIS researchers at Airbus

The Bristol team at Airbus, Filton. From left: Ian Lane, Ric Sun, Alberto Pirrera, Rainer Groh, Qing Ai, Ettore Lamacchia, Jonathan Fuller, Mohammad Fotouhi, Michael Elkington and Olivia Stodieck Airbus

17 June 2015

If presenting your research to a group of industry experts at the UK headquarters of a leading global aircraft manufacturer sounds daunting, think again. Researchers from ACCIS, the University’s cutting-edge centre for composites research and education, are pioneering new ways of working with industry partners to share their findings and maximise the impact of their research.

In the second such visit of its kind, eight doctoral researchers from ACCIS travelled last month to the Filton site of Airbus to showcase their PhD work to senior employees and Experts with over 200 years of aerospace engineering between them.

But this was no conventional presentation scenario, with researchers addressing a hushed audience from a raised dais and inviting mannerly post-discourse questions. Instead, participants sat together informally to discuss presentation topics ranging from robotic manufacturing to computational damage simulations.

ACCIS member Dr Alberto Pirrera, Lecturer in Composite Structures in the Departments of Aerospace and Civil Engineering, explains: ‘We’re aiming to establish a creative space where participants meet as equals to discuss ways in which research can be applied to real-life issues. These types of exchanges tend to evolve organically into more in-depth, inventive, conversations, which can go off at all sorts of unexpected tangents and spark fresh ideas.’

Even the venue – the Airbus boardroom, approached via an imposing staircase flanked by stunning stained-glass windows – is chosen with an eye to inspiring participants and encouraging innovation.

Dr Pirrera again: ‘It’s important to get away from your routine work environment every so often. A change of surroundings does wonders for your ability to focus anew on a particularly thorny research question. Students come away from the event energised and bubbling over with enthusiasm and new understandings. The intention is make these visits a regular annual occurrence as part of our continuing efforts to deliver impact and translate research into practice.’

Ian Lane, Senior Airbus Expert and Visiting Industrial Professor in the Faculty of Engineering, who co-chaired the session with Dr Pirrera, said: ‘Putting Airbus experts and the University of Bristol team together for an open interactive discussion is rewarding for all of us. We get to meet the real people behind the work and the atmosphere is really one of creative exchange. It aligns perfectly with the Airbus Group University Partner Programme and is a brilliant way for all of us to share our enthusiasm and knowledge.’

Videos of the students’ presentations will appear on the ACCIS YouTube channel in due course, or visit ACCIS CDT LinkedIn to join the conversation.

The Bristol team included five members of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Advanced Composites for Innovation and Science (ACCIS CDT). The event was one of a series of industrial visits co-ordinated by the ACCIS CDT as part of the EPSRC’s Impact Acceleration Account Scheme, which aims to widen participation in business engagement and knowledge exchange. Other visits have seen ACCIS researchers present their work at Hexcel (Cambridge) and the National Composites Centre (Bristol).

Industry representatives interested in setting up similar schemes with ACCIS should contact Dr Pirrera at

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