ARMOUR plate with holes in it, steel framed buildings for poverty stricken Indian villages, ‘silent’ railway lines and mysterious organisms that live off carbon dioxide and effluent.
If you think those sound like crazy inventions dreamed up by a mad scientist in the dungeons of a nightmarish castle, then think again.
They are all sound and serious innovations that are destined for success in global markets and the scientists – there’s around 200 of them, in a parkland setting in Rotherham – definitely aren’t mad.
Tata Steel’s Swinden Technology Centre has been a hot bed of innovation since it first opened its doors 60 years ago.
Its job today is much as it was all that time ago.
“Our role is to generate ideas, create a future pipeline of development and to implement products and processes,” says Technology Centre chief and Tata director of process technology and research, Dr Simon Pike.
“It’s about setting the direction for the future, because we can look up to 15 years ahead, at competitor trends and what is happening in the market. Some projects might be about things that are 10 years away; other things have to do with tomorrow.”
New innovations include steels for aerospace and automotive applications that are more cost effective, safer, have longer lifespan in service and are better for the environment.
The centre has developed new coatings that offer higher performance and reduce the requirement for materials like zinc, which can pose environmental challenges, in addition to investigate ways of reducing the impact that the steel industry has on the environment.
It has also been involved in developing metallurgical modelling software that can predict the likely properties of new compositions of steel, radically reducing the need to make and process test melts. Scientists at the Centre can roll new compositions of steel virtually, simulating the effect of different rolling processes and types of roll on the computer before having a seven tonne cast of the chosen composition made at Tata’s Teeside Technology Centre and then processed on their own pilot mill.
The Swinden Technology Centre doesn’t stop at developing steels. It has played a key role in developing new products, either on its own or in collaboration with other researchers and clients.
And, of course, it also helps customers by testing materials and products – to destruction, if necessary – using a mixture of equipment that has been bought in and developed in house that includes the capability to test at temperatures as low as -196°C and as high as 500°C as well as in hostile environments that include, sea water, sour gases like hydrogen sulphide and high pressures.
“There is world-leading, steel-based research taking place right here, in Rotherham,” says Dr Pike.
“It’s a training ground to be proud of, attracting researchers from across the globe, visiting professors and academics, providing engineering and materials training and training for apprentices.”
What’s more, Tata’s Swinden Technology Centre is growing.
“We are recruiting new researchers and taking on apprentices for the workshops,” says Dr Pike.