The Engineering Composites Research Centre was established in the University of Ulster almost twenty years ago and has focused its efforts in developing 3D weaving for the manufacture of reinforcements (technical textiles) for composites.


The Centre remains the UK leader in the development of this technology. The Group has developed expertise in the design, modelling and prediction of the performance of these technical textile structures and built up an integrated design and manufacture system for both flat (multi-layer) fabric reinforcements and preforms for specific components such as spars, aerofoil sections and monolithic ribs.

The Centre, under the intial leadership of Professor Robert McIlhagger (retired 2005), attracted significant funding from the EU, the DTI and industry over a number of years, much of the work focusing on aerospace applications although the work is equally applicable to other industrial sectors. 

Dr Alistair McIlhagger, Acting Director of ECRE, has specific interests in cure monitoring and control during the curing processes for composites, particularly liquid moulding processes using parallel plate dielectrics. More recently he has been concerned with the comparison of the performance of 3D woven with angle interlocked woven and unbalanced reinforcements for composite structures.

Dr Justin Quinn has focused his work on characterising the 3D woven reinforcements for composite materials with specific reference to the tailoring and prediction of the amount of reinforcement in each of the three mutually perpendicular directions. He has also investigated the compressibility of such reinforcements developing an empirical relationship between the applied pressure during processing and the overall fibre volume fraction.

Dr Margaret Morgan has recently successfully completed a PhD. Her work has focussed on modelling of 3D reinforcements for composite materials. Within the I-Deas® software the overlapping cross-section of the warp, weft and binder tows are automatically made to conform to the profile of each other, thus building up a geometrical representation of the reinforcement structure. The importance of this geometrical model is apparent in the need for representative models for meshing and subsequent analysis through FEA etc.

The aim of the research centre is to establish an inter-disciplinary centre of excellence where the wide range of engineering and textile technology expertise can be developed to meet the growing demands of composites technology, further, the aim of the centre is to disseminate this technology to a rapidly advancing composites engineering community within Northern Ireland, UK and Ireland.

The fundamental objectives are to research and develop the application of composite materials in many varied applications, establishing the inter-relationships between designs, materials, processing methods and performance leading to process/product optimisation.

As part of the Metallurgy and Materials Unit of Assessment ECRE is one of a small number of very high priority research areas identified as such by the University of Ulster (UU). 

Over a number of years it has had a very high profile in research into structural and advanced functional materials. In particular the Unit has focused on the development of a new Engineering Research Institute as well as extending the profile of Engineering Composites through ECRE. 

Strong International collaborations have been developed and large infrastructural and project funding has been a highlight of this rapidly growing research area. 

Technology transfer is also a key objective and the discipline in one of Northern Irelands leaders in intellectual property exploitation. The overall objective of the Unit is to investigate the structure-function relationships of, and the interactions between materials, processes and performance in support of the economic and social development of science, engineering, industry and technology transfer.