Aston University partners with steel etching company Qualitetch Components Ltd to develop novel membrane filtration technologies used in precision component manufacture to improve productivity, product quality, process consistency and reduce environmental impact.

The Company

Qualitetch Components Ltd is based near Peterborough and design and manufacture customer-specific, high-precision photo-etched ferrous and non-ferrous metallic components for the aerospace, automotive, electronics, medical devices and aesthetic/decorative sectors. 

They sell direct to customers, providing additional services such as tool-making, forming and welding, which allows the company to control new product development in a cost effective and agile manner.

The company is growing and has ambitious future targets supported by investment in sector-leading equipment.

“Qualitetch's aim is to be a world-class manufacturer, with 99%+ On Time Delivery (OTD) and to make Photo Chemical Machining (PCM) as predictable as competing processes such as machining and stamping. This KTP project will enhance the company’s position and reputation in the market and open up new high-volume markets in these sectors that in the past have been cost prohibitive – e.g., fuel cell manufacture and security”. Alexander Craig, Managing Director, Qualitetch.

The Challenge

A downside to the etching process is that it produces progressive contamination, reducing etching rates and component quality. Qualitetch's current filtration systems are typical of legacy systems used throughout the industry and the company requires a novel system that will continuously and spontaneously remove the carbon and other particles released from the etching of high-carbon steels. However, the proposed solution is not commercially available and Qualitetch does not have the in-house resources to develop it.

The Solution

Academics from Aston University proposed a solution that involves a membrane filtration system that will be novel in an SME manufacturing context. The Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) will utilise Aston’s expertise to develop a system to eradicate contamination and increase productivity for the company.

“The KTP with Qualitetch is an excellent opportunity to accelerate the development of filtration technology and transfer knowledge and expertise to the company.” Dr Qingchun Yuan, Lecturer in Chemical Engineering, Aston University. 

Benefits of this partnership include: 

  • An effective filtration process that will enable greater consistency in processes, meaning improved productivity and On Time Delivery (OTD) rates. 
  • Reduced operating costs due to less downtime and reduced environmental impact. 
  • Adoption of unique technology in this sector giving QCL a significant technical advantage and the ability to explore new market opportunities in Europe and Canada. 

Team Aston

The academic team from Aston will be led by Dr Qingchun Yuan, a lecturer in Chemical Engineering with rich experience in solving engineering processing problems by using surface sciences and chemical engineering
principles. Dr Yuan’s research is in the field of nanotechnology and colloidal sciences and their use in the context of formulation and engineering. She has successfully delivered industrial projects using membrane filtration technologies.

She will be joined by Dr Zhentao Wu, a lecturer in Chemical Engineering with expertise in the development of micro-structured ceramic hollow fibre membranes and the application of such membranes to water, energy and environment sectors. Dr Wu has close connections with membrane industries, benefiting the development of the lab-scaled separation system and scaling up Qualitetch's processes.

Next steps

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For more information about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships or an informal chat, email or call 0121 204 4242.