A materials research engineer by training, Dr Tim Young is now based at the UK's National Composites Centre (NCC). Laurie Winkless caught up with Tim to find out more about Tim and the role and work of the NCC.

Tim, could you begin by telling us more about your role?

I have been working at the National Composites Centre for 18 months, working in polymer composite research. By background I’m a materials research engineer, and to me that means I have to actually understand what happens to a material; how it could be processed, what are the advantages/disadvantages, and then, for a customer, how we could actually use that for their product.

Taking a boat as an example; everybody sees a boat as being a floating object, so obviously moisture is really important - making sure that it doesn’t come through into the centre of the structure. So if you were to change the structure or change the material, what effect might that have? We work in all types of research, from the simple example I just gave you, through to more advanced structures for aerospace, for space, oil and gas. For me, the interest is really understanding how things can work.

It sounds like the NCC is working much more closely with manufacturing than the academic and research based facilities you worked in previously. How does day-to-day differ between the two types of centre?

The day-to-day work has largely stayed the same. What I do is to problem-solve or answer questions. As an engineer we all have things we want to find a solution to, but actually, it's more the questions that I need to be asking, and the direction of the work itself that differ. Previously, I might be asking how something works, and what you should do with it, and how I can apply it. I now have to respond to those questions; so I’m looking at what a customer might want to make a wing lighter, and whether they have an idea on the way they see that happening. And that could be through a material change: so, how would you change the material, what would you need to do? What would be the impact on costs? Those are the kind of main questions that I’m now asking. Whereas before, I’d be focusing on the material itself, such what is the response of the material and how can we measure it? Both are really important aspects, that are on opposite sides of the fence.

This article appeared in the March/April issue of Reinforced Plastics.

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