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Swiss team carves miniscule watch component from synthetic diamond

Mon, 2018-06-18 17:04

A new technique for creating micromechanical systems has led to a miniscule watch component carved from synthetic single-crystal diamond.

Escapement wheel made from synthetic diamond

Diamond has a number of favourable properties but cutting it into complex shapes with micrometre precision remains very challenging.

Now, a process developed by a team led by Niels Quack, a Swiss National Science Foundation Professor at EPFL in Lausanne, makes it possible to carve a micromechanical watch system – a 3mm diameter escapement wheel and anchor – out of synthetic single-crystal diamond.

The Lausanne team is said to have refined reactive ion etching, a technique widely used in the computer chip industry, to carve synthetic diamond into three-dimensional shapes 0.15mm thick.

“We’re getting close to watch industry standard thickness, which is about 0.2mm,” said Quack. “Our technique is interesting to industry, and we are in discussions with a Swiss watch company. We believe that diamond offers reduced friction, which should increase the power reserve. That’s how long it takes until the watch has to be rewound. But it’s still a hypothesis that needs to be tested.”

Diamond has other advantages for watchmaking: it’s translucid and can be coloured, and is also non-magnetic, which is a highly valued attribute in the current market.

Previously, reactive ion etching could create structures 0.05mm thick. When ions are accelerated by an electric field, they not only remove the diamond layers at selected spots; they also erode the mask that defines the desired shape. The depth of the structures that can be obtained is limited by the mask’s resistance and thickness.

In under six months, Adrien Toros, a scientific assistant at the EPFL’s Institute of Microelectronics, developed a double-layered mask that consists of one layer of aluminium, which adheres well to diamond, placed under a second layer of silicon dioxide, which is thick and more resistant to ionic activity. The result is a faster etching process claimed to enable nearly vertical, and deeper, cuts.

With the support of Innosuisse, the Swiss Innovation Agency, the team plans to pursue its collaboration with Swiss synthetic diamond manufacturer Lake Diamond, with whom the team has filed a patent.

“In the medium term this new technique will allow us to produce and commercialise precise micrometre components, and consequently to expand our field of activity”, said Pascal Gallo, the company’s CEO.

In a second project, the researchers are working to develop optical components from ultrapure diamond, such as lenses used in thermal imaging, which operate within the infrared spectrum, as well as laser components for industrial cutting.

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Engineer salary survey highlights widening gender pay gap

Mon, 2018-06-18 15:56

With the gender pay gap across all areas of the economy receiving increasing levels of scrutiny, The Engineer’s 2018 Salary Survey points to a widening gap between the salaries of the UK’s male and female engineers.

Produced in partnership with technical recruitment consultancy CBSbutler, the survey – now in its fourth year – attracted responses from 2,864 engineers from across the UK.

Female engineers, who accounted for just 7.2 per cent of respondents, are paid on average £35,800. This compares to an average of £48,720 for their male colleagues and marks a widening of the £10,000 pay gap identified by our 2017 salary survey.

READ THE FULL 2018 SALARY SURVEY HERE

This gap can be partly explained by the difference in seniority among male and female respondents.  For instance, just 2.4 per cent and 11.3 per cent of male respondents describe themselves as graduates and junior engineers respectively, compared with 10.2 per cent and 20.3 per cent of female respondents.

However, the findings do suggest that male engineers at all levels of seniority are paid more than their female counterparts. Female graduates and junior engineers earn an average of £27,552, for example, compared with £31,051 for male engineers, a gap of around £3,500. This gap jumps to around £10,000 for senior engineers and managers, and widens even further at director level and above, where women earn £46,053, and men £73,595, a huge difference of £27,542.

More generally, this year’s survey tells a story of stagnation, with many key measures showing little, if any change, from last year’s results.

And although there are significant regional, sectoral and seniority based variations, the mean average salary for engineers taking part in this year’s survey is £47,896, which marks a slight decrease on last year’s average of £48,197. To put this in perspective, our 2017 survey showed a year on year average salary increase of six per cent.

FIND OUT WHAT YOU’RE WORTH USING OUR SALARY CALCULATOR

With industry facing a period of growing uncertainty, this stagnation is perhaps unsurprising. And Brexit is clearly looming large in the thoughts of many UK engineers. 61 per cent of those surveyed are concerned about the impact of Brexit on industry, whilst 37 per cent say they are worried about the impact that leaving the EU would have on their job security.

Despite such concerns though, UK engineers appear to be a fairly settled bunch, and although just 32.7 percent of the total response group are content with their pay more than half say that they are happy in their current roles, and more than 80 per cent expect to stay in industry for at least the next five years.

We will be analysing the findings of this year’s survey in greater detail over the coming weeks and months.

The Engineer salary survey 2018 – Key stats
  • 2,864 responses
  • Average age: 45.8
  • Average salary: £47, 896 £48,197 = YOY decrease of 0.6per cent
  • Highest paying Sector – Oil& gas sector (£53, 913), this is closely followed by Renewables / Nuclear (£52,653)
  • Female respondents are paid on average £13k less than their male colleagues – a widening of the £10k gender pay gap reported in last year’s survey
  • 8 per cent of respondents are considering a change of job (down from 45 per cent in 2017)
MORE ENGINEERING SKILLS AND CAREERS COVERAGE HERE THE LATEST ENGINEERING JOBS HERE

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Electrically conductive hydrogel stretches limits of capability

Mon, 2018-06-18 15:26

Engineers have developed an electrically conductive hydrogel that could give people with paralysis greater control over electronic equipment, or give voice to those with speech difficulties.

Developed by researchers at KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) in Saudi Arabia, the material is claimed to take stretchability, self-healing and strain sensitivity to new limits.

“Our material outperforms all previously reported hydrogels and introduces new functionalities,” said Husam Alshareef, professor of materials science and engineering at KAUST.

The research is published in Science Advances.

Smart materials that flex, sense and stretch like human skin could have many applications including biodegradable patches that help wounds heal to wearable electronics and touch-sensitive robotic devices.

The material – a composite of hydrogel and MXene metal-carbide – can stretch by more than 3400 per cent and quickly return to its original form. It also adheres to a number of surfaces, including skin. When cut into pieces, it can quickly mend itself upon reattachment.

“The material’s differing sensitivity to stretching and compression is a breakthrough discovery that adds a new dimension to the sensing capability of hydrogels,” said first author, Yizhou Zhang, a postdoc in Alshareef’s lab.

Signals from the electrically conductive hydrogel can clearly distinguish between different facial expressions (2018 KAUST)

According to KAUST, this new dimension may be crucial in applications that sense changes in the skin and convert them into electronic signals. The team has found that a thin slab of the material attached to a user’s forehead can distinguish between different facial expressions, such as a smile or a frown. This ability could allow patients with extreme paralysis to control electronic equipment and communicate.

In a similarly assistive application, strips of the material attached to the throat can convert speech into electronic signals.

“There is real potential for our material in various biosensing and biomedical applications,” said co-author Kanghyuck Lee.

Further medical applications include flexible wound coverings that can release drugs to promote healing. These could be applied internally, on diseased organs, in addition to adhering externally to skin. The team also envisions developing a smart material that could monitor the volume and shape of an organ and vary drug release according to signals produced.

In robotics applications, the material could be used in touch-sensitive finger-like extensions for machinery.

“There is great potential for commercialisation,” said Alshareef.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE ENGINEERING NEWS

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June 1858: Big Ben mark two

Mon, 2018-06-18 12:50

The Big Ben currently silenced is the second bearing the name

Anybody visiting Parliament Square at the moment will see a lot of disappointed tourists. One of the main things they will have come to see – the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, universally (but erroneously) known as Big Ben – is sheathed in scaffolding with only one face of the clock visible.

And if they were hoping to hear the famous Westminster chimes, and the bell that is actually called Big Ben ringing out the hours, then they are also unlucky. Owing to essential repairs, the tower will be sheathed and the chimes silenced until 2021, apart from on special occasions such as New Year’s Eve.

Perusing our archive, we came across a small entry – just one paragraph – full of interesting and very little known facts about the bell. The first eye-catching thing was that it was referred to as “Big Ben the Second”. There are no further details on why this should be so in the article itself, but a little research has uncovered some history.

The first bell for the tower, a 16.3 ton hour bell, was cast in Stockton-on-Tees on 6 August 1856, and the name of Sir Benjamin Hall, a Welsh civil engineer and politician who served as MP for Marylebone from 1837, and who oversaw the latter stages of the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament, was inscribed upon it. Sir Benjamin being a famously tall man of the time, it is thought that the bell was named after him and even then the tower was also known as Big Ben, though at the time it was properly named St Stephens Tower (it was officially renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012).

READ MORE ARCHIVE COVERAGE ON THE WESTMINSTER CLOCK

In fact, nobody knows whether this naming is true. Another story is that it was named after a contemporary heavyweight boxer called Benjamin Caunt. When the bell was cast, the tower was not yet finished, so it was mounted for testing in nearby New Palace Yard. During testing, however, the bell was cracked beyond repair. A new bell was ordered and the commission given to the Whitechapel Bell foundry near the Tower of London – still in existence and open for fascinating tours, although the foundry itself closed just over a year ago, holding the record as the oldest manufacturing company in Great Britain.

Enter Big Ben the Second. The Engineer tells us that the bell was nicknamed “Victoria” and was “tastefully ornamented with Gothic tracery in low relief”. Inscribed upon the bell were the words “This bell… was cast by Mr George Mears, of Whitechapel, for the clock of the Houses of Parliament, and the direction of Edward Beckett Denison QC in the 21st year of the reign of Queen Victoria, and in the year of our Lord MDCCCLVIII”. The weight, the article tells us, was 14½ tons, one and three-quarter tons less than its ill-fated predecessor (these are, of course, Imperial tons). It was 7ft and 3in high, and 9ft in diameter at its mouth. This was not smaller than the previous bell, but the shape was different. “The head is more rounded, and the waste more sloped in,” the article records.

The spot on the bell where the hammer was to strike was half an inch less in thickness than the old bell, we are told. Already at this point, The Engineer records that the bell was faulty in tone, ringing at nearly F rather than E natural. “The tone of the new bell is stated to be so full of sound that even a slight stroke with a common switch makes it ring with a tolerable tone, and the vibration, after being struck with the clapper, gradually settles down like the sound of a trumpet dying away.”

FIND OUT HOW UK ENGINEERS PROBED BIG BEN’S BONG

The clapper had also been cast, and weighed about six hundredweight, half as much as the clapper for the previous bell. Returning to our research, the new one cracked in September 1856: according to George Mears, immortalised on the bell’s inscription.

Denison (an irascible man, whose obituary we have also featured in our archive section) had used a hammer of more than twice the maximum weight specified to strike the bell. It was out of commission for three years and the hours struck on the lowest toned quarter bell instead while it was repaired.

The repair was a remarkable piece of improvisation: a square piece of metal was chipped out of the rim around the crack and the bell rotated so that the clapper struck in a different point. The tone of the bell changed irreversibly, and the crack is still in place to this day. Nobody calls it Victoria, though.

The post June 1858: Big Ben mark two appeared first on The Engineer.

Non-invasive test for malaria wins RAEng’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation

Fri, 2018-06-15 16:19

A non-invasive test for malaria has won a Ugandan software engineer the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.

Matibabu non-invasive test for malaria

Brian Gitta created the device, which works in conjunction with a mobile phone, after he and members of his team developed malaria, which caused them to miss lectures during their time at Makerere University in Kampala.

Dubbed Matibabu, the low-cost, reusable device clips onto a patient’s finger and requires no specialist expertise to operate. The results are available within one minute (compared to 30 minutes with current tests) on the phone that is linked to the device.

A beam of red light shone through the user’s finger detects changes in the shape, colour and concentration of red blood cells, all of which are affected by malaria. Team member Shafik Sekitto told the Guardian that people infected with malaria have parasites in their blood that produce waste, one type of which is magnetic. The magnet in Matibabu detects this anomaly and sends the results to a mobile device.

Matibabu is currently undergoing testing in partnership with a national hospital in Uganda, and is sourcing suppliers for the sensitive magnetic and laser components required to scale up production.

Gitta & Sekitto

The device is aimed at individuals, health centres and diagnostic suppliers. The team also aims to set up Matibabu on the streets to allow people to do a single test at a time.

Through their participation in the Africa Prize, the Matibabu team have been approached by international researchers offering support and are currently writing up their findings into an academic paper, to be published within the next few months.

“We are incredibly honoured to win the Africa Prize – it’s such a big achievement for us, because it means that we can better manage production in order to scale clinical trials and prove ourselves to regulators,” said Gitta. “The recognition will help us open up partnership opportunities – which is what we need most at the moment.”

Gitta wins the first prize of £25,000. At an awards ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya on 13 June 2018, four finalists from across sub-Saharan Africa delivered presentations, before Africa Prize judges and a live audience voted for the most promising engineering innovation.

The three runners-up, who each win £10,000, are:

  • Collins Saguru, a Zimbabwean working in South Africa, for AltMet, a low-cost, environmentally friendly method for recovering precious metals from car parts
  • Ifediora Ugochukwu from Nigeria for iMeter, an intelligent metering system that gives Nigerian users transparency and control over their electricity supply
  • Michael Asante-Afrifa, from Ghana for Science Set, a mini science lab that contains specially developed materials for experiments

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation. It encourages sub-Saharan African engineers to develop innovations that address crucial problems in their communities in a new way.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE ENGINEERING NEWS

The post Non-invasive test for malaria wins RAEng’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation appeared first on The Engineer.

Stretchable circuits boast wearable and biocompatible applications

Fri, 2018-06-15 15:51

Chinese researchers have developed a stretchable metal-polymer conductor (MPC) that has potential for wearable circuits and biocompatible electronics.

https://media.eurekalert.org/multimedia_prod/pub/media/172567.mp4

(Credit: Tang et al)

The non-toxic material features globs of gallium and indium that sit within a silicon-based polymer substrate, the liquid metal acting as a fluid conductive medium that allows electricity to flow. According to the researchers, the structure resembles round liquid metal islands floating in a sea of polymer, supported by a liquid metal base to ensure full conductivity.

The material is produced using a combination of screen printing and microfluidic patterning, resulting in a pliable and resilient liquid-plastic hybrid that can take on a range of two-dimensional shapes. Described in new journal iScience, the MPC could facilitate advances in wearable electronics and durable biomedical implants.

“These are the first flexible electronics that are at once highly conductive and stretchable, fully biocompatible, and able to be fabricated conveniently across size scales with micro-feature precision,” said senior author Xingyu Jiang, a professor at China’s National Centre for Nanoscience and Technology. “We believe that they will have broad applications for both wearable electronics and implantable devices.”

As part of their research, the team experimented with a number of different MPC formulations in a variety of applications, including in sensors for wearable keyboard gloves and as electrodes for stimulating the passage of DNA through the membranes of live cells. Due to the flexibility of the method, it is claimed that virtually any two-dimensional geometry can be fabricated.

“The applications of the MPC depend on the polymers,” said first author Lixue Tang, a graduate student in Jiang’s research group. “We cast super-elastic polymers to make MPCs for stretchable circuits. We use biocompatible and biodegradable polymers when we want MPCs for implantable devices. In the future, we could even build soft robots by combining electroactive polymers.”

According to project lead Jiang, biocompatibility was a fundamental requirement, and it opens up a world of applications beyond rudimental wearables.

“We wanted to develop biocompatible materials that could be used to build wearable or implantable devices for diagnosing and treating disease without compromising quality of life,” he said.  “We believe that this is a first step toward changing the way that cardiovascular diseases and other afflictions are managed.”

MORE ON MATERIALS

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Sculpted graphene foam shapes up for batteries and sensors

Fri, 2018-06-15 15:38

Texas team devise method to make three-dimensional objects from graphene foam

Graphene has often been touted as the ultimate two-dimensional material. However, chemists at Rice University in Houston, Texas, have devised a method for making and sculpting three-dimensional blocks of graphene foam. The soft, porous solids can be used as supports for components of batteries and super-capacitors and as a mould for materials to make flexible, conductive sensors.

Duy Xuan Luong with a block of LIG Image: Tour Group/Rice University

The work was carried out in laboratory of Prof James Tour, a synthetic organic chemist who specialises in nanotechnology and is also a professor of computer science. Four years ago, Tour’s laboratory was the first to synthesise laser-induced graphene (LIG) by heating films of polyimide, a polymer commonly used in industry, with a laser. This method creates a two-layered structure, with the polyimide remaining intact at the base but the upper layer transformed into interconnect flakes of graphene.

The team has now developed this technique further to make complete blocks of this graphene material, rather than simple sheets. It is done in a manner similar to additive manufacturing, where the block of graphene foam is built up from layers. Initially, a single sheet of polyimide is treated as before. It is then coated with ethylene glycol and another layer of polyimide placed on top. The top of this layer is again burned with a laser to transform it into LIG. The process is repeated with additional layers until the block of the desired size is created. The block is then placed onto a hot plate to evaporate away the ethylene glycol, then transfer to a furnace to burn off remaining polyimide, leaving behind a spongy block of interconnected graphene flakes with pores measuring 20 to 30nm in diameter.

The foam is assembled by burning polyimide film into laser-induced graphene, then stacking more polyimide on top with an ethytlene glycol binder and repeating the processs Image: Tour Group/Rice University

In the journal Advanced Materials, Tour and his students, led by Duy Xuan Luong, explain how they modified a 3D printer with a custom-built fibre laser to mill the block into complex shapes. They also carried out some application trials, using the LIG blocks as anode and cathodes in lithium ion capacitors. The anode achieved a gravimetric capacity of 354 milliamp hours per gram, near to the theoretical limit of graphite, while the cathode’s capacity exceeded the average capacity of other carbon materials, they said. “This is excellent performance in these new-generation lithium-ion capacitors, which capture the best properties of lithium-ion batteries and capacitor hybrids,” Tour said.

The LIG block can be laser-milled into shape Image: Tour Group/Rice University

The team also infused LIG block with liquid poly-dimethyl siloxane, creating a stronger conductive material of the same shape but with greater strength. From this material, they made a flexible sensor that accurately recorded the pulse from the wrist of a volunteer. Further calibration of this device would allow them to derive blood pressure from the pulse waveform, they claim. “This truly brings graphene into the third dimension without furnaces or the need for metal catalysts, and our process is easily scaled,” Tour claimed.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE ENGINEERING NEWS

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Interview: Mclaren Applied Technologies CTO Dr Caroline Hargrove

Fri, 2018-06-15 12:30

Dr Caroline Hargrove, CTO of McLaren Applied Technologies, talks to Jon Excell about how motor racing is helping other sectors modernise

While top-flight motorsport has sometimes struggled to stress its wider technological significance, it’s fair to say that in recent years its reputation as a hothouse for a nimble approach to innovation and technology development has been somewhat reinvigorated. And there are few more striking illustrations of this dynamic at work than the turbo-charged growth of McLaren Applied Technologies, the spin-out arm of the celebrated Woking-based racing and automotive group.

Many different sectors could learn from motorsport’s approach to data

Formed in 2004 when McLaren merged its composites and electronics operations, McLaren Applied Technologies now employs around 520 people and last year grew by 36 per cent, cementing its position as the wider group’s main engine for growth.

It’s a growth that the firm’s chief technology officer Dr Caroline Hargrove puts down to the fact that the expertise honed on the track –particularly with regards to data –is suddenly much more relevant to the wider world.

In today’s highly connected, data-rich world, sectors ranging from healthcare, to manufacturing to public transport are increasingly aware of the transformative benefits of an intelligent approach to data, and McLaren’s expertise –built up over almost three decades –is, she said, directly applicable to the challenges many other sectors now face. “We have operated in a data-rich environment for a long time,” she told The Engineer, “and a lot of people are only experiencing data in the last 10 years or less. A lot of the stuff, like the so-called digital twin, we’ve been doing for 20 years –we did a digital model of the race car in great detail, which is what a digital twin is, but we just didn’t use that terminology.”

Dr Caroline Hargrove – CTO Mclaren Applied Technologies

The division’s recent growth has also coincided, she said, with a decision to drop a somewhat scattergun approach to projects and concentrate instead on a few key markets where it feels it can have maximum impact.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest of these areas is the motorsport sector, which accounts for just over half of the business. The firm’s electronic systems and software tools feature in most of the world’s big motor racing series, and it’s the sole supplier of the engine control units used in Formula 1, NASCAR and IndyCar Championships.

It also recently won the contract to supply the batteries for the Formula E championship, a move Hargrove says puts the company in a good position to capitalise on the worldwide push for electrification. “It’s an exciting time. This is where the industrial strategy is pushing, and luckily motorsport isn’t lagging behind,” she said. “Our newFormula E battery, which will be used in the new Gen2 cars is a step in the right direction for both the series and the potential application of the battery technology in road vehicles.”

Beyond motorsport, the wider automotive market is clearly an obvious destination for the firm’s expertise. And one of the biggest success stories here, said Hargrove, is the development of road car simulation technology based on McLaren’s Formula 1 simulator – a system that Hargrove played a major role in developing.

Hailed as a step-change in vehicle simulation, the McLaren system dispenses with the somewhat clunky traditional hexapod-based motion simulators, and instead uses an innovative combination of air springs and linear motors to more accurately replicate the twists and turns of a real-life driving experience. The system plays a key role in helping Mclaren’s race engineers work with the drivers to optimise their technology, but now, working with US firm MTS Corp, the company is bringing its benefits to the wider automotive market. Hargrove said that as well as being used by McLaren’s own automotive division, the technology is already helping a number of OEMs accelerate their own development programmes.

Mclaren’s advanced Formula 1 simulator has been adapted for automotive OEMs

The firm is also looking at the wider world of public transport. Here in the UK, it has been working with train operator C2C on a system that gives vastly improved Wi-Fi connectivity to commuters travelling on the firm’s Southend to London route. The technology takes all of the different communications signals (3G, 4G, Wi-Fi etc) and seamlessly switches between them, depending on which has the most bandwidth.

Further afield, it recently announced a project to develop a condition monitoring system for Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit network that will see sensors and data loggers more commonly used in Formula 1 deployed on the network’s trains. This project, claimed to be a first for race to rail technology transfer is, said Hargrove, part of a broader push to apply the lessons learned in motor racing to the railway track. “There are many things we are doing to improve the performance of trains,” she said. “We’re also looking at whether we can do disruption management –when something goes wrong, your crew are at the wrong place, your trains are at the wrong place, and there’s a lot of factors. How do you solve that one? At the moment humans are solving this one and we think we can do a better job by supporting the humans by doing loads of computation in the background.”

A less mature area for the company, but one where Hargrove believes there could be huge potential, is in healthcare. “It’s in our sweet spot of lots of data being streamed, processed locally and in the cloud –and we keep thinking there’s something there for us.”

She’s certainly not alone in this ambition. In a major speech in May, prime minister Theresa May argued that smart use of data and AI could help save hundreds of thousands of lives a year by enabling earlier diagnosis.

Smart use of data could revolutionise healthcare, and Mclaren would like to help

But although McLaren has been involved in a number of projects in the field – including a notable collaboration with the University of Oxford on the development of decision support tools for surgeons – Hargrove is frustrated by a somewhat cluttered innovation pathway for potentially game-changing medical technologies. “The route to market is difficult,” she said. “There’s lots of innovation, but fragmentation of the sector, and the way technology is procured holds the UK sector back.”

Another key market for the firm, the Industry 4.0 obsessed world of manufacturing, is somewhat further along in its thinking. Here, McLaren is collaborating with Deloitte on the development of a smart decision support system to help manufacturers deal with the ever more complex demands they face.

Hargrove is passionate about the impact such tools could have on broader industrial productivity in the UK, particularly on the UK’s long-tail of manufacturing SMEs. “The people we’ve worked with so far are often the people who already do a decent job –we need to find a way of cracking the people who if they don’t do this, their productivity is really going to go down. How can we reach those companies who are not really thinking that’s an issue to show that it’s often not that difficult to raise your bar a little bit?”

Kids buzz when you give them something exciting to do, but I don’t think the school system or teachers have got the bandwidth or experience to give them that

It’s hard to think of a more stimulating and exciting engineering environment than the one described by Hargrove and yet, in common with many other less-well known and less glamorous firms, she said that McLaren does struggle to find the right skills. In an effort to address this, the company recently opened a data science office in Waterloo, to tap into the skills of London’s buzzing tech start-up community.

But while this is proving to be an effective short-term move, Hargrove believes much more needs to be done to shore up the future pipeline of skilled engineers and is puzzled that a profession capable of generating so much excitement doesn’t have the right “glow” for the next generation. “Kids buzz when you give them something exciting to do, but I don’t think the school system or teachers have got the bandwidth or experience to give them that –I’m not sure how to fix it, other than everyone trying to do a little bit.”

MORE INTERVIEWS HERE

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Video of the week: AI sees through walls to assist people with degenerative illnesses

Thu, 2018-06-14 17:03

This week’s video comes from MIT where researchers are using AI to see through walls in order to improve the lives of people with degenerative illnesses.

Dubbed RF-Pose, the latest advance from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) uses AI to teach wireless devices to sense people’s postures and movement, even from the other side of a wall.

Led by CSAIL’s Prof Dina Katabi, the team has used a neural network to analyse radio signals that bounce off people’s bodies in order to create a dynamic stick figure that walks, stops, sits and moves its limbs as the person performs those actions.

The system could be used to monitor diseases like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis by providing a better understanding of disease progression and allowing doctors to adjust medications accordingly. It could also help elderly people live more independently, while providing the added security of monitoring for falls, injuries and changes in activity patterns.

RF-Pose confidence maps and skeleton (Credit: MIT-CSAIL)

The team is currently working with doctors to explore multiple applications in healthcare.

“A key advantage of our approach is that patients do not have to wear sensors or remember to charge their devices,” said Katabi.

MIT CSAIL RF-Pose could also be used for new classes of video games where players move around the house, or even in search-and-rescue missions to help locate survivors.

The research is detailed in a paper titled: Through-wall human pose estimation using radio signals

Click here for more engineering news

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Simulation gives England 3.8 per cent chance of winning 2018 Fifa World Cup

Thu, 2018-06-14 15:47

England’s footballers have a 3.8 per cent chance of winning the 2018 Fifa World Cup, according to a Monte Carlo simulation applied to all the teams in the tournament.

Whilst the England national football team has realistically long odds, 2014 winners Germany are ranked as having a 13.3 per cent chance of retaining the trophy.

These are outcomes from an uncertainty model devised by the University of Adelaide’s Steve Begg, who rates Australia as having a 0.1 per cent chance of winning the tournament.

Begg, a Professor of Decision-making and Risk Analysis in the University’s Australian School of Petroleum, has developed a ‘Monte Carlo simulation’ of the competition based on team rankings with other input including recent form.

The key idea behind the modern Monte Carlo technique is that rather than trying to work out every possible outcome of a complex system, enough possibilities are modelled to be able to estimate the chance of any particular outcome occurring.

“The outcomes of many decisions we make are uncertain because of things outside of our control,” said Prof Begg. “Uncertainty is crucial in predicting the chance of an oil or gas field being economic. In the World Cup, it determines the many ways the whole tournament might play out. What makes it so hard to predict is not just uncertainty in how a team will perform in general, but random factors that can occur in each match.”

In the simulation, Begg is said to have generated 100,000 possible ways the whole tournament of 63 matches could play out. Although there are many possible options – almost 430 million outcomes in just the Group stage – this is “more than enough” for an assessment of the probability of how far each team will progress. He can run 800 different simulations a second.

In his model, two key uncertainties are a team’s “tournament form” (their general level of performance entering the finals) – and a team’s “match form” (the extent to which the team plays better or worse than its tournament form in a given match). The possible scores for each match are derived from the likely number of goals, based on scores from all matches in the last three World Cups, allocated to the two teams based on their relative match form.

Inputs to the model are based on FIFA rankings over the past four years, modified by Begg’s knowledge of the game and team; for example Russia will have a higher “tournament form” because of host advantage, and poorer teams have a relatively greater “giant killing” upside than better teams.

On current inputs, Begg has calculated the Australian national team has a 14 per cent chance of advancing through the groups stage, 3.8 per cent of making the quarter-finals, 1.2 per cent of the semi-finals, 0.3 per cent of being in the final, and 0.1 per cent chance of being the 2018 World Cup Champions.

“This may be disappointing,” he said, “But to make good decisions, it is really important to base beliefs on evidence and reason, not what you would like to be true.”

“Probability is subjective, it depends on what you know,” said Begg. “It doesn’t need data; you use what information you have to assign a degree of belief in what might happen, and thus make decisions or, in this case, a judgement on who wins. The crucial thing is that your information and reasoning is not biased.”

The 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia kicks off today, June 14, 2018 with its first game between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia.

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Multisensing device maps water contamination in rural Colombia

Thu, 2018-06-14 15:18

An electrochemical device developed at Bath University is being used in rural Colombia to detect water contamination and help map problem areas.

The device measures four key physicochemical variables in water, namely pH levels, conductivity, temperature and dissolved oxygen. It also monitors the presence of heavy metals in water, including mercury. Developed in conjunction with Colombia’s University de Los Andes, the system features a mobile app that uploads the readings in real time to a web-based platform. This allows authorities and members of the public to see where contamination is at its worst, potentially tackling its root causes.      

“The novelty of this device lies mainly on the electrochemical detection and on the interactive process and display of the data,” Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, project lead and senior lecturer at Bath’s Department of Chemical Engineering told The Engineer.

“The device is an integrated sensor that includes probes for physicochemical analyses, together with electrochemical detection of heavy metals [mercury, lead, copper and cadmium] using screen-printed electrodes. The sensor communicates with a smartphone and the data is sent to an open-access interactive map.”

Officially known as ‘Water Monitoring in Colombian Vulnerable Communities in a Post-Conflict Scenario’, the project was conceived with the express aim of addressing contamination in the Colombian Amazon. According to the Bath team, Colombia is the third most mercury-contaminated country in the world, largely due to illegal metal mining. Parts of the great river are highly polluted by the heavy metal, which finds its way into the food chain via fish consumed by locals, as well as irrigation and drinking water.

Rural indigenous communities have been particularly affected, with high rates of foetal malformations and brain disorders linked to the problem. As part of the project, the research team spent three weeks testing the device alongside the indigenous community of the Resguardo Santa Sofia, located at the southern tip of the Amazonas region of Colombia.     

“Due to the lack of financial resources and technology, communities like Santa Sofia in the Amazon have no means of checking if the water they are surrounded by is safe to use,” said Dr Di Lorenzo. “This multi-sensing device can have a massive impact to these communities, allowing them to easily check if the water they are using is safe to do so.”

The researchers believe that by mapping areas of water affected by mercury as well as providing locals with key water variable readings, the spread of water-borne diseases can be prevented. They hope that communities are empowered with a means of testing a water supply themselves whilst authorities are provided with evidence of water affected by illegal mining allowing them to act and mitigate this activity. Currently, the team is working to further improve the device by making it more intuitive and smaller, making the technology even more accessible for rural communities.

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Muddling along with multi-platform malarkey

Thu, 2018-06-14 15:17

Our 24 hour, connected, multi-platform world is supposed to make it easier to communicate with one another. So why, asks our anonymous blogger, is it often so much harder?

The ability to communicate around the world currently stands at a level that could only have been dreamed of even a mere 20 years ago. There’s E-mails, Skyping, Facetiming and any number of other nouns that have been turned into verbs by the hip kids. However there is also a bit of a problem in that some people do not actually reply to messages sent.

I must admit that I’m a bit old fashioned with all this multi-platform communication malarkey and on the whole I just use e-mail and the telephone. I can hear some of you out there muttering “Just send a read receipt request” with regard to the e-mail but it has been my experience that these too have been ignored. The telephone is barely any better. As often as not the person you call isn’t available and when you leave a message they never fail in not getting back to you. As far as I’m aware the subjects I get in touch with people about are neither contentious nor trying, and of course a lot of them are related to matters of benefit to the recipient, yet there does seem to be a growing trend for just ignoring stuff.

I’m left wondering if this is a modern phenomenon and, if so then what’s at the heart of it? With the expectations raised by immediate contact from virtually any part of the world, including trains and cars, is the normal sequence of such situations now seen as redundant? Could it be there is more opportunity to hide from stuff – the modern equivalent of the bottom of the in-tray? I may well be out of step with the new norm but think this laissez-faire attitude to be unprofessional and mentally mark down those who practice it.

I personally also have a problem with the questions of etiquette regarding all this. First, there is no way of knowing if the message has reached the intended recipient and been ignored, intentionally deferred or merely that its been mislaid – either literally or metaphorically. A follow up could be tried but how many can you get away with before it potentially becomes irksome and you are undermining your own position? If it is the case of a supplier for a commonly available item then the solution is easy, you go and find another supplier. If it is more in the nature of establishing a collaborative relationship, or a single available source of supply then things become a bit trickier. As the established rules of non-immediate (and occasionally sporadic) communication are eroded the potential for doubt regarding intent, aligned with unnecessary conflict, increases.

The necessity of maintaining historic working practices in this way is, for me, reflected in the much vaunted idea of the paperless Design Office. Although we are not far off this I still print drawings out and I think it is because of the way the human brain processes information. There is a reason that A0 was generally the largest sheet size for drawings and A4 the smallest. If you select the size correctly then you can look over the whole drawing and immediately understand the information in each view and how they inter-relate, as well as looking at details where required. Not so important for understanding overall geometry in the world of 3D CAD but still significant when dimensioning complex objects.  Relying on the screen results in much zooming in, zooming out and scrolling; making reconciliation of the macro and micro difficult. When A0 screens are common, then there will truly be no need for paper.

New technologies give new opportunities and we should explore how we use them without clinging onto historic methodologies. However we should also understand how those methodologies are arrived at if we are not to lose old advantages whilst creating new ones.

The brain / eye interrelationship needs to always be central to the method of representing design information. Equally, clear and disciplined techniques need to be maintained in communication no matter what the medium.

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Real time laser monitoring process could save steelmakers millions

Thu, 2018-06-14 14:24

Steelmakers could save millions of pounds a year with an award-winning laser based technology that offers real time monitoring of the chemical composition and temperature in molten metal furnaces.

Dr Szymon Kubal with a molten steel ladle

The breakthrough innovation, which is being marketed by Swansea University spin-out Kubal-Wraith and developed in collaboration with Tata Steel UK, is claimed to offer a significant improvement over existing monitoring process, which require production to be halted while disposable probes are immersed into the molten metal to measure temperature and take samples.

Commenting on the new technology, its inventor, Tata Steel UK’s Dr Szymon Kubal, said: “We have been able to adapt and combine recent advances in refractory manufacturing and laser metrology to enable continuous monitoring with no break in production.”

He explained that the process allows a laser beam to be projected into a molten furnace through a refractory gas-swept channel (or tuyère) in the furnace wall. “Previous attempts of laser measurement techniques have been thwarted because metallic accretions block the channel through which the laser is probing, rendering the devices unreliable,” he said. “This innovation does do not suffer from such problems.”

The firm claims that the technology could save individual steelmaking plants £4.5m per year, but whilst steel plants will be the first market to be targeted, the technology is applicable to other metal making sectors such as aluminium, copper and nickel. World Steel Association data indicates there are over 1000 molten metal furnaces worldwide and each would see significant cost savings, increased throughput, and a reduction in use of consumables through adopting the new continuous process control of temperature and composition.

“A critical barrier for us to overcome was the extreme difficulty in getting permission to test our new innovations in an operational steel plant under production conditions,” said Dr Kubal. “However, by working in collaboration with Tata Steel UK we are able to undertake full-scale validation trials. It is a huge endorsement that we have been able to secure such support in order to penetrate this barrier to market entry.”

The technology, which recently won the Materials Science Venture Prize awarded by The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, is the subject of a patent owned by Swansea University to which Kubal-Wraith has exclusive exploitation rights.”

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Going electric: The Range Rover P400e

Thu, 2018-06-14 13:00

The Range Rover P400e is a new plug-in hybrid model boasts 404PS and a usable electric-only range. So how does it compare? 

Nobody could have predicted just how influential the Range Rover would go on to become when the original three-door model was launched in June 1970. It brought off-roaders out of the farmyard and onto the high street – paving the way for the hordes of SUVs and crossovers that now dominate the global car market.

Like many iconic cars, its shape was in fact penned by an engineer rather than a stylist. But that didn’t stop Spen King’s original concept being exhibited in the Louvre, alongside the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. The fact the silhouette has changed so little in the intervening half a century is testament to its inherent rightness.

Under the skin, things have changed rather more radically. The current generation Range Rover was the first SUV in the world to feature an all-aluminium monocoque construction when it debuted in 2012. It was the most extensive finite element analysis project that Jaguar Land Rover had ever undertaken at the time – subject to a staggering 1,000 CPU years of processor time. The end result was a structure 39 per cent lighter than the steel equivalent, contributing to an overall weight saving of up to 420kg (depending on the market and specification).

When fully charged the Range Rover P400e gives a range of up to 31 miles

One of the other major changes brings us on to the car you see here, the Range Rover P400e plug-in hybrid. Strictly speaking, this is not the first hybrid powertrain to appear in a Range Rover – that honour goes to the previous diesel-electric Range Rover Hybrid launched back in 2013. But it is the only one you can buy now, not to mention the first to feature a plug-in capability and a meaningful electric-only range.

Flip up the iconic clamshell bonnet and you’ll find the smallest engine ever fitted to a Range Rover – the 2-litre four-cylinder Ingenium petrol unit now found in everything from the Jaguar F-Type to the Land Rover Discovery. It features high-pressure direct injection, a variable lift system on the intake valves that allows the throttle to be left open most of the time, and a twin-scroll turbocharger, which uses ball bearings to improve efficiency and transient response. The end result is 300PS (296bhp) from just 1,997cc. But that’s just half the story. Mounted on the ZF 8-speed gearbox there’s an 85kW (116PS) electric motor, capable of powering all four wheels. Due to the different characteristics of the two powerplants, you can’t quite add up their individual outputs, but the combined total is still an impressive 404PS (398bhp) and 640Nm (472lbft) of torque. More to point, it means the P400e officially returns 101mpg and emits just 64 g/km of CO2 on the NEDC cycle.

Of course, as with any hybrid, these laboratory figures bear scant resemblance to the real world. We saw a rather less eco-friendly 21mpg on our drive through the Cotswolds. Admittedly, it was driven with considerable gusto.

Does that defeat the object of a hybrid powertrain, then? Not at all. For a start, Land Rover claims an all-electric range of 31 miles on the NEDC cycle. We didn’t have a chance to put that to the test, but we’re told well over 20 miles is achievable in the real world, which means the average British commute could potentially be done on little or no petrol – particularly if there are recharging stations at both ends. For fleet operators, company car drivers and city dwellers there are also numerous financial benefits associated with its on-paper figures. These include significant tax incentives and exemption from the London Congestion Charge.

There are other benefits, too. With both powerplants working in unison, the 2.5-tonne Range Rover feels every bit as rapid as its 6.4 second 0-to-60mph time would imply. In fact, it’s second only to the supercharged 5.5-litre V8 in the line-up. What’s more, the electric motor adds vast reserves of easily modulated torque right from zero rpm, which makes this particular Range Rover even more formidable off-road.

Truth be told, however, it’s not the Range Rover’s performance or its off-road ability that has given the model such enduring appeal; it’s the fact it’s also a world-class limousine. Here, too, the electric motor helps. At least up to a point.

The good bits first: Electric-only mode brings a level of serenity to the cabin that even the very best combustion engines would struggle to match. And despite the electric motor’s modest power output there’s enough torque to make effortless progress. It’s an ideal fit with the Range Rover’s luxury remit. The downside is that the petrol engine is quite keen to cut in once you switch to hybrid mode. By four-cylinder standards it’s a fine effort, but it simply doesn’t sound as cultured as the larger V6s and V8s in the range. Somewhat curiously, the addition of the hybrid system also seems to have added a slightly crashy edge to the ride (it’s not entirely clear why this has happened, because although it’s some 250kg heavier than the petrol V6, the P400e is only a few kilos heavier than the V8, which glides along beautifully). In the grand scheme of things these are both relatively minor niggles, but at this price point – £105,865 as tested – you’d be forgiven for being picky.

Inside, there’s the same brilliantly executed cabin as you’ll find in the rest of the range – now featuring a vastly improved infotainment system first seen in the Range Rover Velar. The twin 10-inch touchscreens are intuitive to use and great to look at, plus there’s an excellent voice control function co-developed with Nuance. There’s also one of the best head-up display units we’ve tested, a plethora of connectivity options and all the latest driver assistance functions.

Land Rover likens the infotainment system to a ‘digital butler’, waiting on your every need. And some of its most interesting work takes place behind the scenes. In hybrid mode, for instance, the navigation system can analyse the roads and the GPS altitude data for your chosen route and plan the most effective energy management strategy. It can also learn your preferred routes to work and check real-time traffic information to deduce the best option for that particular morning. Likewise, if you’re running late for a meeting it can send ETA updates to your fellow attendees and if you’re on the way to the airport it can alert you if your flight has been delayed.

Whether or not you choose to pay a premium for the plug-in hybrid will depend very much on your requirements. For business owners and company car drivers the P400e may well be the default choice within the range. Likewise, for those who can carry out a reasonable number of journeys in electric-only mode it offers a compelling proposition. Ultimately, though, the conventional models remain that little bit more polished – at least for the time being.

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Design student’s grandmother inspires dementia app

Wed, 2018-06-13 19:56

A design student from Nottingham Trent University has created an app to assist those living with dementia in everyday tasks.

ORIA, the Home Care Companion, was developed by 21-year-old Sarah Lodge, originally from Northampton. The app displays medication and appointment reminders on a customised tablet installed in the user’s home, as well as daily tasks, pictures and messages. Sarah was prompted to build the app by the deteriorating health of her late grandmother Theresa, who had Parkinson’s disease before being diagnosed with dementia. Sadly, Theresa died earlier this year whilst Sarah was still developing the technology.

“Family was always important to my grandmother and she thoroughly enjoyed receiving updates of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” said Sarah.

“She proudly displayed several photo frames of her memories with her family. This always brought a smile to her face. However, as I was living a long distance away, it was difficult to maintain contact which would evoke the same emotive response from her. This app is designed to help solve this as well as providing simple everyday support which will help people with dementia maintain their independence.”

The tablet is linked to the phone of a carer or relative who can choose what is displayed. The app also provides advice and resources for carers, including access to ‘blogORIA’, a platform for people to share their stories of caregiving. Interaction levels are recorded and the data is used to send alerts to the carer if there is a drop in contact for an extended period of time. Sarah’s design is set to go on public display at Nottingham Trent University’s Art and Design Summer Show 2018.

“This is a brilliant example of a product that has been designed in a thorough and thoughtful way in order to support people living with dementia,” said James Dale, head of Product Design at Nottingham Trent. “ORIA has the potential to have a really positive impact on their lives and those who support them.”

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Wood pulp could replace fossil materials in synthetic chemical manufacture

Wed, 2018-06-13 16:13

Finnish and UK scientists develop method for making lignin particles react with enzymes in water, opening up new possibilities for bio-based polymers from wood

Forestry is an important industrial resource in Finland

Finland is covered in forests, and as a result the pulp and paper sector is one of its most important industries. One of the byproducts of the pulp industry is lignin, the fibrous organic polymer that gives wood its structural strength but must be removed when it is turned into paper. Currently, lignin has no commercial uses, and is treated as a waste material.

Trying to find a use for this waste stream, researchers at Aalto University joined forces with the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at York University. The research concentrated on the behaviour of spherical particles of lignin, whose manufacture had already been developed at Aalto. Their major breakthrough was in creating a water-repellent composite structure out of the lignin particles, when they discovered that, by regulating the surface charge of the particles, they could make enzymes stick to their surface. The researchers used a natural polymer isolated from seaweed to support the lignin-enzyme complexes.

The biocatalysts (at the bottom of the vial) could open new avenues in green synthesis (Image: Valeria Azovskaya)

As the researchers explain in a paper in Nature Communications, these complexes had surprising properties. The lignin improved the efficiency of the reaction catalysis performed by the enzymes, enabling reactions that would not otherwise work in water.

Aalto University postdoctoral researcher Mika Sipponen explains that this could have a major commercial significance. “The commercial enzyme we use as reference is attached to the surface of synthetic acrylic resin produced from fossil raw materials. In comparison, this new biocatalyst was at best twice as active,” he said. “The beauty of this method lies in its simplicity and scalability. We are already able to manufacture lignin particles in batches of several kilogrammes. Of course, we hope that this will become a sustainable option for the enzyme industry to replace fossil materials in technical applications.”

The discovery could open up new possibilities for the production of biologically-based polyesters, the team claims. “We are pleased that the years of investing in the lignin particle research are beginning to produce significant results. We envision several possible uses for spherical particles in green chemistry processes and the development of new materials”, said research leader Professor Monika Österberg.

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Therapi heart implant localises drug delivery on damaged tissue

Wed, 2018-06-13 15:53

An Irish-American research consortium has developed a new heart implant known as Therapi that delivers medication precisely where it is required.

(Credit: Whyte et al)

After a heart attack, scar tissue that builds up around damaged blood vessels can precipitate ventricular or valve failure. Preventing this with medication requires either inaccurate systemic treatment – where doses must be kept low and the whole body is affected – or targeted drug delivery to the heart via multiple invasive surgeries.

The Therapi implant features a gelatin-based polymer reservoir where drugs can be stored and released locally to the damaged tissue. Attached via a surgical procedure, the reservoir can be refilled via a port on or just below the patient’s skin. The implant’s flat bottom consists of a semi-permeable membrane that can be adjusted to allow more drugs or larger materials to pass directly into the heart tissue.

Published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, the research was led by Harvard University and featured input from MIT, Ireland’s Royal College of Surgeons, Trinity College Dublin, Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) Centre, and National University of Ireland Galway.

“From a pharmacological point-of-view, it’s a big problem that you’re injecting something that doesn’t stay at the damaged tissue long enough to make a difference,” said William Whyte, co-first author and PhD candidate at Trinity College Dublin and AMBER.

“The material we used to construct the reservoir was crucial. We needed it to act like a sponge so it could retain the therapy exactly where you need it. That is difficult to accomplish since the heart is constantly squeezing and moving.”

(Credit: Whyte et al)

According to the team, Therapi is ideal for administering stem cell treatments, with the reservoir acting as something of a cell factory. Rather than pass through the membrane into the heart, the cells stay within the reservoir where they produce paracrine factors that promote healing in the damaged heart tissue.

In testing on rats, the device was found to improve cardiac function following a heart attack, with hearts that received multiple doses of therapy showing better results than those that were treated to just a single dose or no treatment at all.

“After a heart attack we could use this device to deliver therapy to prevent a patient from getting heart failure,” explained Ellen Roche, co-first author of the study and assistant professor at MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science. “If the patient already has some degree of heart failure, we can use the device to attenuate the progression.”

While the team has been focusing on how Therepi can mitigate the effects of heart disease, the device could also be used in other parts of the body to treat a wide range of health issues.

“The device is really a platform that can be tailored to different organ systems and different conditions,” said Claudia Varela, a PhD student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. “It’s just a great example of how intersectional research looking at both devices and biological therapies can help us come up with new ways to treat disease.”

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Improving metal 3D printing processes for aircraft parts

Wed, 2018-06-13 15:16

Dr. Ing. Paola Caracciolo from Airbus Commercial discusses the effect of defects in Additive Manufacturing (AM) processes for aircraft parts.

The application of additive manufacturing for the production of aerospace components has a long and well-documented history. In fact, 3D printed components are already flying on Airbus planes.  Titanium brackets built using additive-layer manufacturing are in use on Airbus’s series production commercial aircraft, the A350 XWB.

3D printed parts installed in aircraft also include cabin brackets and bleed pipes which have already flown on Airbus A320neo and A350 XWB test aeroplanes.

3D printed parts are flown on aircraft including the A350 XWB

This installation is the product of advanced manufacturing and the result of a partnership representing the first 3D printed component to be implemented on an Airbus commercial aircraft. It comes after a series of installations of similar parts on test aircraft.

When applied to aircraft, the additive layer manufacturing technique has resulted in a 30 percent reduction of the weight, compared with conventional manufactured parts with the same function.  An Airbus A320 nacelle hinge bracket has also been optimised through AM technology, incorporating a new topology method and metal powder manufacturing improvement process. As a result, the part has met all functional and strength requirements, whilst reducing costs and increasing production – a significant step for the economic viability of 3D printing of parts.

Process control and identification of parameters in AM

Advanced research using AM technology can improve surface quality, microstructure variability, powder control process and process parameters. To safely increase 3D printed parts for additional uses in the Airbus fleet, we – together with our partner – continue to develop new advanced technology processes.

Analysing the defects both inside and outside the powder bed process is key to this research to assess requirements within the limit of the defect´s threshold and a bionic design optimisation.

A 3D printed Titanium bracket

The objective of this test campaign is to validate a new manufacturing technique that can increase the rapid application of AM in the aircraft industry. AM could reduce the mass of individual assemblies by up to 50 percent and result in weight savings in aircraft construction.

Identifying and characterising key failure modes and defects can, ultimately, help to reduce production costs, waste, toxicity and energy use. In general, the shape of 3D printing parts can reduce the raw material waste produced during milling by 90 percent, dramatically reducing the energy demand for production.

Controlling the process chain and the anomalies produced during the AM process also helps to establish Process Control, enabling repeatable and predictable part quality.

Currently, the only way to produce aerospace quality parts using the AM powder bed process requires a long process chain with a lot of steps in the post processing. The intention of the test campaign of 3D titanium powder component is to shorten this chain and to analyse fatigue life cycles impacted by defects.  These properties are influenced by a high number of factors including the technical build process parameters.

A first step in the research was to investigate the laser beam melting process chain for ways to avoid the Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP) process, which can help to optimise the process and cost of AM part production. To ensure the safety is not in any way compromised, parts created without the HIP process need to be analysed to ensure that they are fully robust despite the technical changes in the build process. Successively the fatigue and crack propagation analysis are compared with its existing flight-worthy counterpart.

Probabilistic model used to investigate defect´s effects of fatigue on AM

The analysis, based on a probabilistic approach of crack propagation behaviour, is implemented in a tool containing comprehensive information and detailed analysis of critical defects that occur in the AM parts, such as porosity and surface roughness.

If the test results yield defects that fall below the threshold for failure (or a lack of defects altogether), the test parts will then undergo fatigue testing to ensure they are robust enough to meet the industry’s rigorous safety standards. For example, void and inclusion defects are only acceptable when they do not affect safety requirements and functionality at any time during their lifetimes.

The use of the probabilistic technique with the correlated defect and stress tests also help to identify the most critical defects. High severity detection of defects impacts the limitation of the AM. By characterising the defects and their consequences, we can work to safely extend the use of AM to a wider range of aircraft applications.

By combining expertise in metal additive manufacturing and metallurgy with Airbus’s know-how in final aircraft part design and qualification, we are paving the way for future applications of metals-based additive technologies for creating aircraft bionic components. Results of these tests will help no only to reduce costs and weight, but also the environmental impact of future aircraft.

Dr Paola Caracciolo – Airframe Research & Technology, Airbus Commercial Germany

If you’d like to learn more about defects testing for 3D printed parts in the aerospace industry, come hear Paola speak and share the results of her latest research at this year’s Additive International (formerly the International Conference on Additive Manufacturing & 3D Printing) in Nottingham from 10-12th July.

Register at: https://www.additiveinternational.com/ 

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UK’s Storelectric brings compressed air storage to the Netherlands

Wed, 2018-06-13 14:52

Storelectric is to build a large-scale compressed air energy storage site in the Netherlands, after winning an international competition.

Storelectric received €50,000 for winning the NAM70 Challenge

The UK start-up, which proposes storing energy via compressed air in underground salt caverns, was recently crowned the winner of the NAM70 Challenge, run by Dutch energy company NAM.

As well as a €50,000 prize, Storelectric will now partner with NAM, which is jointly owned by Shell and Exxon, to investigate the idea of re-purposing oil and gas infrastructure for use in energy storage. They aim to build underground storage sites in the Netherlands and potentially the North Sea, to store energy from offshore wind farms and onshore solar power plants.

Compressed air energy storage (CAES) is not itself a new technology and has been operating at a site in Germany since 1978, and at a plant in Alabama in the US since 1991.

At CAES plants, excess electricity, for example from intermittent renewable energy sources, can be used to compress and store ambient air under pressure in an underground cavern. Then, when electricity is needed, such as when the wind is not blowing, the pressurised air can be heated and expanded in a turbine to generate electricity.

However, as the air is being compressed it heats up, and this heat must be removed before it can be safely stored, according to Jeff Draper, director of Storelectric.

“You can’t put hot compressed air into a salt cavern at 500 degrees Celsius, it would melt the salt cavern, so it has to go in at ambient temperature,” said Draper. “The way the existing plants have done this is to release the heat from the compressed air to atmosphere on input, which is a waste of energy.”

Such plants then use natural gas to re-heat the air as it is expanded, reducing the overall efficiency of the process.

So instead, Storelectric stores the heat removed from the air during the compression stage, and uses it to re-heat the air again during the expansion stage, a process known as adiabatic CAES.

Winning the NAM70 Challenge will provide Storelectric not only with funding but also with access to NAM’s engineers, helping to push the technology forward, according to Draper.

“This kind of geological solution (to energy storage), is closely aligned with the oil and gas companies,” he said.

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View from the Academy: Engineering and the politics of EU research funding programmes

Wed, 2018-06-13 13:00

The significance of EU research funding programmes to UK businesses has so far received little attention but a recent keynote speech from the prime minister was very encouraging, writes Royal Academy of Engineering chief executive Hayaatun Sillem

On 21 May I found myself on a train to Macclesfield with a bevy of other stakeholders from the world of science and research, including the science minister and business secretary, all heading off to hear the prime minister give a speech on science and the Industrial Strategy at Jodrell Bank.

A prime ministerial speech focused entirely on science is a sufficiently rare event to render the very fact that it is happening as significant as the words spoken. Happily, there was much to applaud. Firstly, I was delighted to hear the PM refer explicitly to engineers and innovation, alongside scientists and research. Secondly, the speech positioned science and engineering firmly at the heart of the Industrial Strategy, acknowledging the role of entrepreneurs and business in delivering the benefits associated with research. Thirdly, she set out a vision that was both ambitious and inclusive, stating: “Our challenge as a nation, and my determination as prime minister, is not just to lead the world in the fourth industrial revolution – but to ensure that every part of our country powers that success.”

Perhaps most notable of all was the impassioned finale of the speech in which she stated for the first time that the UK would seek full association with the excellence-based European science and innovation programmes – including the successor to Horizon 2020 and the Euratom Research and Training Programme, the primary vehicle through which the EU funds civil nuclear research. A few days later, the Government added further colour to this high-level aspiration by releasing the slides that they had presented to European Commission negotiators, setting out the key elements of their proposed future partnership for research and innovation, including the possibility of an ambitious, and unprecedented, Science and Innovation Pact.

Interestingly, the presentation hints at a willingness to make concessions. For example, it states that in the context of these programmes, the UK “will respect the remit of the CJEU [European Court of Justice], where relevant” and acknowledges that any Science and Innovation Pact would have to be “underpinned by wider agreements and arrangements on cross-cutting issues such as data sharing and protection, researcher mobility and intellectual property”. The presentation ends by throwing down the gauntlet to the Commission to come to an early agreement on this.

Over the past few months, the Academy has been exploring the significance of EU research and innovation funding programmes to UK businesses. This topic has received far less attention than the significance of these programmes to UK academia, and we organised a roundtable in March for science minister Sam Gyimah to hear directly from businesses and entrepreneurs about European collaboration. The discussion highlighted the fact that many UK businesses, large and small, have both extracted important benefits from accessing EU programmes and played influential roles in shaping European research and innovation agendas across a range of sectors and disciplines.

This is reflected in the data, which show that UK business is consistently highly engaged across all industrially relevant areas of the EU research and innovation framework programmes. The UK currently ranks fourth of all 28 EU member states for the number of business participations in Horizon 2020, with support for SMEs of particular importance. SMEs receive the majority of funding awarded to UK businesses and the UK is continually one of the top-performing countries in SME-specific schemes.

Businesses say the benefits of participation go far beyond access to funding, providing important opportunities to build trusted relationships with international partners, whether through formal collaborations, participation in networks or across supply chains. Other distinctive features of EU research and innovation support from the perspective of business include the scale of support on offer, in terms of both budget and number of partners; the availability of support across the full spectrum of research and innovation; the breadth of sectors that are supported; and the long-term nature of the support, which is regarded as being less subject to short-term changes than the UK’s national provision.

However, UK business performance in Horizon 2020 has recently fallen, with the UK slipping from second position in September 2016 to its current fifth position in terms of funding received by business. While UK businesses that are already established partners in EU programmes continue to be involved, they are receiving fewer new approaches to join collaborations, and businesses without prior experience of EU programmes are finding it more difficult to engage.

The response of the Commission’s negotiating team to the UK’s proposals was said to be encouraging, and science and innovation collaboration is widely regarded as one of the least controversial elements of our future partnership with the EU. Time will tell whether these positive signals will translate into early agreement on a Science and Innovation Pact, or whether the goodwill on both sides will be insufficient to outweigh the politics and complexity of the wider negotiations.

The post View from the Academy: Engineering and the politics of EU research funding programmes appeared first on The Engineer.

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