Unlocking Innovation: M.A.D.E. for Rolling Stock

December 2019


Innovation hubs, big data, decarbonisation – and, in a very specific presentation, the potential of using robots to extract human waste from train toilets - were among the themes and discussion points at the relaunched Unlocking Innovation event on 10 December at the University of Huddersfield. Freelance journalist Ian Hall writes what he found out...

The all-day event, held in Huddersfield on 10 December, ran under the ‘M.A.D.E. for’ theme, which stands for Materials, Automation, Data and Energy - key areas where the UK rail sector could develop new technologies, benefiting both the domestic rail system and providing the industry with a competitive edge internationally.

‘M.A.D.E. for Rolling Stock’ examined these key areas in train manufacturing and maintenance, with presentations from clients and businesses from both inside and outside the rail industry. After welcomes from RIA’s Richard Jones and Prof Simon Iwnicki, Director of the University of Huddersfield’s Institute of Railway Research, the event – attended by more than 100 participants – saw short presentations from Network Rail's (NR) Amanda Mackie, Unipart Accelerator Hub’s Steve Ingleton, Arthur Emyr from the Welsh Government’s Global Centre of Rail Excellence and Kevin Eley from the Porterbrook Innovation Hub.

Mackie outlined NR’s Rail Innovation and Development Centres work programme including acting as a testbed for 5G technology, ETCS (European Train Control System) level 2 and an initiative using soil saturation levels to predict potential flood risk. Emyr described how the £125m rail-testing complex would include a “unique-to-Europe high tonnage infrastructure testing loop” and that the first phase could be in use by 2022. But the site, he said, involved a significant “earthworks challenge”. Porterbrook’s Eley outlined the application process for the Porterbrook 2020 Innovation Hub, emphasising that the deadline is 7 January 2020. 



Prof. Simon Iwnicki, Director of the Institute of Railway Research, welcomes attendees to Huddersfield


Lighter and Greener Materials
The ‘Materials’ segment witnessed three presentations, kicking off with Robert Winning of Bombardier Transportation, who analysed the challenges faced by spheroidal graphite iron, saying that there is a “general lack of awareness” of the material within the rail sector. 

Camille Seurat of ELG then described how carbon-fibre composites can deliver “significant” weight savings, and economic and environmental benefits, within rail. Her presentation was made all the more relevant by the fact that ELG were unveiling their CAFiBO carbon-fibre bogie at the University of Huddersfield. The bogie is a worldfirst and is made entirely out of surplus and recycled carbon fibre materials. Its lighter weight means it will reduce track wear and infrastructure maintenance cost, improve reliability and operational availability through an embedded health monitoring system and will reduce energy consumption. The bogie was on display when attendees toured the IRR's dynamic test rig, named HAROLD. The new bogie is being developed as part of a two-year programme delivered by a consortium of companies comprising ELG Carbon Fibre, Magma Structures, the University of Birmingham and the University of Huddersfield with additional support from Alstom. 

Dr Darren Hughes of Warwick Manufacturing Group outlined how organisations are seeking to cut down their carbon dioxide emissions but drew parallels with the auto industry, saying that “light-weighting” had not reduced emissions. He said: “Even though we like polar bears [metaphor for environmental concerns], we [car drivers] like heated seats.



The world's first carbon fibre bogie was on display at the event

Opportunities for Automation

The ‘Automation’ segment also saw three presentations, with NR’s Femi Okeya kicking things off by describing the challenge that, in his words, “everyone has a different definition of what ‘autonomous’ means”. But NR is not looking to “totally eliminate the human” as it examines robotics - and is “open to receiving inquiries, solutions and support” from stakeholders on this topic. 

Chris Greaves of the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (University of Sheffield) outlined his organisation’s growth and its impressive throughput of apprentices. He said the centre was “relatively new” to the rail centre, but, in a comment that epitomised the day, “there’s so much innovation that can be transferred between sectors”. 

The final speaker of the Automation segment was Brunel University London’s Kourosh Eshraghi, who described his work on a ‘fluid-servicing robot’ for trains. “Should we get the funding, the next stage is a fullscale prototype,” he said.

The Power of Data

The event’s ‘Data’ segment saw David Vincent of Perpetuum examining wheel management and remote condition monitoring, followed by IBM’s Nathan Butler exploring the global surge in data availability and its potential, touching on developments such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain. 

Echoing Greaves’s earlier point, Butler emphasised how “having dialogue” with the rail sector was “vitally important” and that data was becoming increasingly important and powerful across a range of industries. 

Energy and Traction 

The concluding ‘Energy’ segment looked at decarbonisation and energy-saving initiatives through three different perspectives. 

Will Midgley of Loughborough University outlined research comparing the energy usage of different engine types on the route between London and Reading; Jonathan Brown of Ricardo tackled the topic of ‘how we find the missing energy to replace diesel’, concluding that there is no clear answer and that hydrogen is not the panacea; and Neil Cooney of SET Ltd showcased an example from London Underground’s Circle Line of potential CO2 savings that can be made by rail. 


Lucy Prior, Business Development Director at 3Squared, gives an 'elevator pitch'

Unlocking Innovation

As well as the main speeches, the event in Huddersfield also saw 14 three-minute ‘elevator pitches’ from people seeking to boost awareness of their organisations and make contacts. T

he event marked the first in a new series of Unlocking Innovation events, which will explore the theme of 'MADE' in different parts of the rail industry over the coming year. The events bring the sector together to look at the latest products and services being developed to deliver an even more efficient, reliable, safe, low carbon and cost-effective rail network. 

The event took place at the University of Huddersfield’s Institute of Railway Research. The university leads the Centre of Excellence in Rolling Stock within the UK Rail Research and Innovation Network (UKRRIN), a £92m partnership between industry and academia with the aim of developing innovation. The University is also home to a £4.5m laboratory facility and test-rig HAROLD (Huddersfield Adhesion & Rolling contact Laboratory Dynamics rig) and RIA is a founding partner of UKRRIN. 

The Unlocking Innovation events are supported by Network Rail, whose R&D Portfolio has around 50 Challenge Statements - key areas where they are looking for innovative solutions from industry. Investment in Research & Development in the industry is at record high levels – with £357m combined funding from NR and industry in infrastructure over the next five years - as well as a number of other sources of innovation funding.

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