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Clearly, one of the main advantages of setting up a UTC is its flexibility and responsiveness. Consequently there are almost as many models for how one might work as there are potential companies. For example a UTC might take a novel project through to the proof of concept stage, or it might be a cost-effective alternative to the outsourcing of research or modelling contracts.

The Rolls-Royce Unit - a pioneering example of a corporate UTC

The forerunner of the UTC concept is the Rolls-Royce funded University Technology Centre which was opened in this department in October 1994 with an initial Rolls-Royce grant of £1.25 million. The Centre has also attracted additional funding from a range of other sources. The Centre provides a base within the Materials Science and Metallurgy Department. It is run by staff fully funded by Rolls-Royce in collaboration with academic staff members. It has access to many of the facilities required for world-class research, charged at competitive rates. Security of information is provided by secrecy agreements and highly secure rooms with special access restrictions.

The remit of the Centre is to develop next generation nickel-based alloys, and new high temperature materials for turbine blades, discs and nozzle guide vanes. The key components operate in the hottest parts of the aeroengine where metal temperatures reach up to 1200 degrees Centigrade in an environment which is hostile and corrosive. A large theoretical and experimental programme is in progress to optimise the composition, processing and coating of nickel-based alloys and candidates for their replacement. This involves the computer modelling of materials using a range of techniques such as neural networks and kinetic modelling, combined with measurement of mechanical properties using sophisticated testing equipment and the characterisation of microstructure using a range of electron microscopy and X-ray diffraction methods. The UTC is funded on a five-year rolling basis by Rolls-Royce.