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Funding confirmed for £2.7m research programme

17 February 2010

Sheffield Forgemasters International (SFIL) has secured up to 50 per cent funding from Yorkshire Forward for a £2.7m research and development project to further its hold in global power generation markets.

Due to the continuing demand for fossil fuelled power stations, SFIL has seen an increasing number of contracts secured for new super critical applications with current orders for generator and turbine rotors stretching beyond 2011.

These forgings, which typically weigh between 75-95 tonnes, have to meet very specified and refined standards to operate in extremely high temperatures with SFIL leading the technological advances in this type of manufacture.

Yorkshire Forward has approved a grant of up to half the project cost to help fund the technological development of these components at its newly created research and development facility at SFIL's Brightside Lane base in Sheffield.

The two-phase project, with funding matched by SFIL, will focus on the cleanliness of the steelmaking process through innovative technology plus research and development into ingots and forging, opening up access to markets valued in excess of £200m per year.

Dr Jesus Talamantes-Silva, who has just been promoted to Group Research and Development Director at Forgemasters, said: "The process will enable us to produce a much higher consistency of finished product which will result in greater manufacturing efficiency.

"The company is also seeking improved gas consumption and press efficiency during the forging process."

There is a continuing demand in Europe and China for these types of rotors as power generation moves to 1000MW super critical technology.

Turbine rotors are steel shafts, to which the turbine blades are fixed, and which rotate at extremely high speeds. This rotation powers a generator to produce electricity. The turbine is driven by steam and in this application the inlet temperature is much higher than in standard turbines, so being more fuel efficient.

Dr Talamantes-Silva added: "The first stage of the project requires fundamental research of the steelmaking process in order to explore the possibilities of implementing innovative technology. This is unique in this type of manufacturing process and will give SFIL a significant advantage against competition by dramatically improving steel cleanliness.

"The second stage of the project will concentrate on ingot and forging research and development.  This will involve computer simulations to develop the most suitable technology in terms of ingot and forge tooling to manufacture these types of larger rotors.

"Our approach to R&D means that actual production of these components follows a right first time principle." 

Alex McWhirter, assistant director of business for Yorkshire Forward said: "Gaining access to finance from traditional sources for businesses looking to enter new markets at home or abroad is still extremely difficult in the current market.

"In our role as  the region's Development Agency we understand that research and development is crucial to a company's success and in order for them to develop and grow their business with new and improved products and processes."

SFIL has also been investigating with various customers the market for turbine units for nuclear application. Typically forgings in this sector weight up to 250tonne and this research project is a key step in the strategy to extend its business capability.

The company places great importance on research and development spending between five and 10 per cent of its profits on R&D companywide compared to a national average of three per cent. Capital investment currently sits at £30.1m from 2006 with an additional £2.62m in the quarter to June 2009.

Investment in the new R&D facility includes a new computer cluster, microscopy equipment and software for advanced computer simulations plus a team of new researchers.

The company is currently researching and developing several major projects including modeling and process optimisation.

Photo caption: Sheffield Forgemasters group research and development director Dr Jesus Talamantes-Silva with chief executive Graham Honeyman