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Marking time on precision engineering

Adventures in science: the Magna centre in Rotherham, UK

Adventures in science: the Magna centre in Rotherham, UK.

By Susan Curtis

At a time when the UK steel industry is close to meltdown, it felt quite humbling to be standing inside a disused steelworks on the outskirts of Rotherham. In its heyday in the 1970s the colossal plant employed 3000 people and housed six electric arc furnaces that set new records for steel production. Since closing in 1993, the facility has forged a new identity as the Magna Science Adventure Centre, which offers visitors an insight into the steel-making process and its heritage in the area around Sheffield.

Recently, I was at Magna for the annual TRAM conference, which showcases the latest technology advances in the aerospace industry. Organized by the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), one of the UK’s Catapult centres based at the University of Sheffield and supported by Boeing, TRAM highlights how aircraft makers and their suppliers are improving materials and manufacturing processes to reduce cost and enhance performance. But among the talk of powder metallurgy, high-performance machining and the factories of the future, a presentation by Nick English from the UK-based watchmaker Bremont highlighted manufacturing innovation at a much smaller scale.

English set up Bremont with his brother Giles after their father died in a flying accident in 1995. Their vision was to create purely mechanical watches, or chronometers, that offer precise timekeeping in even the most extreme environmental conditions. “We wanted to create watches that were all about the engineering, rather than just a fashion statement,” explained English, who originally trained as an aeronautical engineer. “Our motto for our watches is ‘tested beyond endurance’.” As an example, Bremont specifically designed a range of watches that can survive the same rigorous testing programme as the ejector seats installed in military aircraft.

More broadly, the English brothers’ vision for Bremont is to revive the glory days of British watch-making, epitomized by John Harrison’s celebrated creation of a marine chronometer that finally allowed longitude to be measured accurately at sea. But it’s not all about the past, and the company is still working to embrace new materials and technologies in its products. In a recent collaboration with Boeing and the AMRC, Bremont developed a series of watches exploiting the same advanced steels and lightweight titanium alloys that are found in modern aircraft.

“When we talked to the AMRC, we fell in love with what they were doing,” commented English. “The end result was us designing a watch and using the AMRC’s expertise on the materials and the manufacturing process.”

According to Phil Spiers at the AMRC, the key was finding an aircraft-grade material that also offers good scratch resistance. “We had been working with Carpenter Technology, Messier Dowty and Airbus on a research programme looking at the properties of the material used for forged parts, so we knew the properties well,” Spiers commented. “After some trials of the scratch resistance, we provided Bremont with some trial material – and the rest is history.”

Bremont joined the AMRC as a research member, but has since created a role at the centre for a PhD student to investigate watch parts and movement manufacturing processes. “The relationship has become a lot deeper than we first thought possible, which is really wonderful,” commented Nick.

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  1. Pasquale G. Falbo

    Training Electrons “moving” “through” a “solid” wire is “electricity”.

    Training Photons “moving” “through” something-not-conceived-of, yet, could be, what?

  2. Trackback: Marking time on precision engineering – MyPhysNet


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