The Research and Education Network for Knowledge Economy Initiatives or RENKEI was launched in 2012 to encourage collaboration between academia and industry in the UK and Japan. RENKEI runs various training events and workshops every year, which are attended by researchers from the RENKEI member universities; the University of Southampton is one of six in the UK and there are a further six in Japan. The idea behind the RENKEI program is that effective research collaborations are develop over time and that, by building networks between researchers in the UK and Japan, long term economic integration will be encouraged.
This year, RENKEI targeted research within aerospace engineering and organised a themed workshop (organised by Nagoya University), a handful of early-career researchers from each of the RENKEI member universities were invited to attend. Aerospace is arguably the most globally focused industry as it relies on the ability of industry and academia to work across a range of cultures. The workshop provided an opportunity for UK researchers to experience and understand the aerospace industry in Japan as well as being exposed to research and lab work.
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the five day workshop in August 2014; the workshop was very engaging and varied in its activities, which included lectures from academics at Nagoya University, factory visits and, of course, experiencing Japanese culture. Early in the week we had the opportunity to visit the aerospace arm of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). Their Nagoya site was the home of the Boeing 787 wingbox production line, which is a huge composite structure. Aerospace manufacturing has long been contracted to Japanese companies (the total Japanese workshare for the 787 is 35%, see here), which has allowed companies such as MHI to develop specific expertise in aerospace manufacturing. MHI now produces the H-IIB rocket, the main launch vehicle for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA); the vehicle is frequently used to supply the ISS.
It was fascinating being able to visit the manufacturing floor and seeing the H-IIB in production, especially since the UK lack launching capabilities on this scale. I was particularly struck by the similarities of the strengths and challenges that Japanese and British industries face; high value manufacturing is an area that both the UK and Japan provide a lot of support for and is often seen as a critical driver of economic growth.
During my time at Nagoya University I was also given the opportunity to have a look at some of the unique facilities they have; ranging from smaller rigs, such as a ballistic wind tunnel, to full facilities, including the National Composites Centre with a 3500 tonne press and a lightning test chamber.
Interspersed amongst these events, we had the chance to experience Japanese food, history and culture with the other participants; our hosts were incredibly hospitable and always had a great after hours program lined up, which mostly consisted of the gastronomic experience of a lifetime, followed up with karaoke.
Needless to say, the week was very enjoyable but it was also highly beneficial. As well as developing a deeper appreciation for the manufacturing challenges for the aerospace industry, this was my first experience of working with colleagues within an academic context, across cultures; I learned a little about Japanese customs and a lot about how to effectively collaborate and maintain research networks around the globe. For many attending, the week was a first step into the realms of international research and collaboration.
The University of Southampton has a huge network of international partners/collaborators and I would encourage any PhD student to actively seek out these opportunities. If you would like more information on future RENKEI activities, or any other international projects, have a peruse here:
or you can get in touch with the International Office.