DTE Supplies Software to the National Composites Centre

Bringing UK Composite Industry & Academia together

The National Composites Centre (NCC) was initiated in November 2009 as a key element in the UK Composites Strategy. The objective was to bring together UK composites industry and academia in an open innovation centre equipped with state of the art manufacturing facilities at an industrial scale, thus providing capabilities to build prototypes to validate design concepts.

The key objective of the NCC is to facilitate widespread exploitation of composites technology and hence assist all relevant sectors of UK industry to compete effectively in the rapidly growing global market.

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National Composites Centre

The new custom designed 8,500m² building in Bristol was completed in June 2011, and onsite operations commenced in August 2011. The NCC is hosted by the Universities of Bristol and Bath. Strong links are in place with the research activities of both Universities. Links are also being established with composites research in other establishments, including Imperial College, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Cranfield Universities.

UK Composites Strategy PDF doc coverThe setup of the NCC was funded by £12M from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, supplemented by £4M from the South West Regional Development Agency and £9M from the European Regional Development Fund. The £25M funding has been spent in setting up the centre.

Ongoing Centre operations are funded through a mix of industrial membership subscriptions and commercial contract work. The NCC currently has six Tier 1 members: AgustaWestland, Airbus, GKN, Rolls Royce, Umeco and Vestas.

The NCC is part of the High-Value Manufacturing Catapult which opened its doors for business in October 2011. Seven partners are working together to form the new Catapult centre, bringing together their expertise in different and complementary areas of high-value manufacturing. The Catapult provides an integrated capability and embraces all forms of manufacture using metals and composites, in addition to process manufacturing technologies and bio-processing. It draws on excellent university research to accelerate the commercialisation of new and emerging manufacturing technologies.

Expertise at the NCC

The NCC has expertise in composites design and structural analysis, modelling and simulation, materials and process engineering, robotics and automation, manufacturing and tooling engineering, validation, material testing, and both manual and mechanical manufacturing skills. The NCC has a very broad range of technology capability in pre-preg and dry fibre solutions, and with thermoset and thermoplastic resin systems, using a wide range of manufacturing technologies including hand lay-up, robotic fibre placement, resin infusion, hot drape forming, press forming, with both in and out of autoclave curing, all at a true industrial scale (up to 10m x 3m).

These manufacturing capabilities are supported by component finishing and quality validation capabilities, ultrasonic NDT and a fully equipped material laboratory. The NCC also has a large assembly and special project area.

The NCC acts as the hub in a “hub and spoke” model that networks composites capability in regional centres throughout the UK.

The constant need to innovate

Innovation is a founding principle of the NCC which is why Allister Dare-Edwards, research engineer at the centre, first approached Desktop Engineering (DTE):

I’ve known DTE for a number of years and they have an exemplary record in post processor development. Our need at the time was to enhance the functionality of two of our existing machines, an MTorres 5-axis router and a HAAS VF-4 3-axis. For both, we were looking to extend their capability. I knew that DTE had vast experience in developing custom codes to optimise and improve the quality of machining so I invited them down to scope the requirement.”


The MTorres 5-axis router is traditionally used for the drilling and machining of large components, and the HAAS VF-4 is a vertical machining centre. For each device, the NCC required post-processor solutions that would complement a CATIA–focussed machining environment.

CATIA, from Dassault Systèmes, provides the NC (Numerical Control) programmer with an efficient, easy-to-use and innovative NC programming and machining simulation solution that significantly reduces overall manufacturing process time.

The software has a strong reputation for reliability and robustness, from prismatic to complex parts machining in different manufacturing segments (prototype manufacturing, tooling manufacturing, part manufacturing) and is widely used across many industries. It is appropriate for large and small companies handling 2.5-axis milling, 3-axis dedicated to molding and tooling, 4 and 5-axis complex machining and lathing.

The Solution

Dare-Edwards continued: “Every machine at the NCC needs to be adaptable as no client request is the same. Therefore, it is not unusual for us to need new posts so that machines can perform functions that perhaps they weren’t originally programmed for. It really all depends on what we’re commissioned to do. For instance, on the MTorres machine we were looking to develop additional functionality and in particular a 360° head turn capability.”

After analysing the brief from the NCC and an exploratory trip to Bristol, DTE recommended FASTPOST from CENIT. FASTPOST is an easy-to-use programming interface that develops and modifies post processors for CATIA.

From using FASTPOST, the NCC benefits from:

  • Execution of post-processor in a CATIA V5 environment without additional cost;
  • Fast and easy creation and modification of post processors for any kind of machining processes (milling, turning, wire);
  • Better customization through the adoption of CATIA user interface: higher efficiency and a higher degree of automation.

For the MTorres 5-axis router, the NCC wanted a post written which would control the 2 rotary axes using machine angles, rather than vectors. This provided the NCC with the following benefits:

  • The operator would now know what the machine was about to do, as they can evaluate a machine rotary axis at a glance;
  • The programmer can now control the direction of rotation with more than one solution;
  • If a rotary axis is reached the programmer can now position the axis to avoid limit or the post processor can automatically retract the tool from the job and select a second solution.

In addition, with the new MTorres post, the programmer is now able to use tilted working plane functionality which has the following benefits;

  • Circular interpolation at any head orientation which provides a better end product;
  • Axial cycles providing smaller and more readable programs;
  • Cutter compensation allowing tight tolerance features and the use of re-ground cutting tools.


Dare-Edwards concluded: DTE managed to provide us with two working post processors within a matter of weeks. I was particularly impressed with their responsiveness and quick turnaround.”


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