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Lontra to create 75 jobs with first UK manufacturing facility

Mon, 2018-01-22 21:28

Lontra is to create 75 jobs in Warwickshire by 2020 after announcing plans to build a manufacturing facility for its industrial compressors in the region.

Steve Lindsey, CEO and founder at Lontra

The first part of the factory will open later this year, with a single flexible production line complementing the firm’s R&D Technology Centre in Napton.

Around £65m will be invested by 2021 in the development of this and a further site, with funding currently being sought for a second phase of expansion. The project is backed by Shield Group Engineering, one of the largest manufacturers in the UK with contracts to supply components to Caterpillar, Cummins, Aston Martin, Jaguar Land Rover and JCB.

“This is a vote of confidence in Britain’s ability to manufacture at volume and high specification at globally competitive prices, said Steve Lindsey, CEO and founder at Lontra. “This is a new chapter for our business and we are delighted to be spearheading a new wave of precision manufacturing in the UK, and are committed to the Midlands where we believe that some of the world’s very best engineering minds can be found.”

Today’s announcement marks Lontra’s first foray into manufacturing directly in the UK. The company currently licenses its Blade Compressor design to pump manufacturer Sulzer. The manufacture of compressors in Southern Ireland will continue under Sulzer’s license, with Lontra’s new facility tackling fresh markets and applications.

Greg Clark MP, secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy said: “Britain has a proud history of manufacturing and through our Industrial Strategy the government has outlined a vision that will build on our strengths in this industry and help shape an environment that enables businesses and manufacturers to thrive.

“Significant investments by companies, like Lontra, into the UK’s advanced manufacturing base demonstrate the confidence businesses have in this approach and reflects the huge opportunities that exist both in the Midlands and the UK.”

CLICK HERE FOR MORE MANUFACTURING NEWS

The post Lontra to create 75 jobs with first UK manufacturing facility appeared first on The Engineer.

Blackburn students match course and kart for STEM inspiration

Mon, 2018-01-22 21:01

Engineering students from the University Centre at Blackburn College are using modified EV racing karts to develop STEM workshops for local schools.

(Credit: Blackburn College)

The peer-led project involves six BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering students. Based on similar ambassador programmes undertaken by universities around the world, the programme will aim to encourage children in Lancashire to consider a future within STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.   

“Delivering these ambassador programmes is instrumental in encouraging children to become the generation of future engineers,” said Danny White, manager of Purdue University Motorsports, which runs a similar programme in the US. “These programmes bring STEM into the classroom and ensure that children are aware of the opportunities available to them, developing well rounded and engaging curriculums.

“Creating programmes around subjects that children find engaging, whilst also providing in-depth knowledge about several industries such as motorsports, IT, manufacturing, whilst learning about key employability skills.”

The programme is supported by Future-U – an organisation set up to help future-proof the workforces of tomorrow – as well as industrial partners in the region.

“This project is an exciting opportunity to develop a programme, which actively encourages the development and engagement of STEM activities across both higher education and further education (FE),” said project industry lead Richard Tafts, health and safety manager at NIS, based in Chorley, Lancashire.

“The BEng (Hons) Mechanical Engineering students will lead that project; interviewing the FE students, choosing their team and deciding on the format and content of the school workshops. The FE students will then deliver the workshops.”

Nicholas Hall, business development manager at Blackburn College added: “We are delighted to be running this project with the support of Future – U and look forward to watching the project develop and engage with schools throughout Lancashire.

READ MORE NEWS FROM THE STUDENT ENGINEER HERE

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BGF invest £4m into high-precision component manufacturer

Mon, 2018-01-22 20:36

A high-precision component manufacturer has secured a £4m investment from BGF to expand its operations in the UK and mainland Europe.

Walker Precision Engineering

From premises in Glasgow, Basildon and Poland, Walker Precision Engineering manufactures and assembles complex parts for the aerospace, defence and industrial sectors.

The business is said to have experienced an increase in demand from existing and new customers and the new funding will allow the company to invest in specialist machinery.

Space is a burgeoning market for Walker and the company has been involved in the Galileo Satellite System, which is the European high accuracy positioning system.

In addition to further investment at its Glasgow HQ, Walker will move its Basildon operations to a new purpose-built facility and double the capacity of its manufacturing facility in Poland.

Mark Walker, managing director at Walker Precision Engineering, said: “Walker has grown steadily over the years through our deep commitment to investing in technical expertise and innovation.

“Now is the right time to bring on board a minority investor. BGF’s funding will help us pursue new opportunities in the market faster than we would otherwise have been able to do.”

Paddy Graham, BGF investor, added: “Having known the business for a number of years, we’ve seen the team successfully scale up its operations and customer base and break into the space market.

“There are significant opportunities for Walker to expand its capacity further in both existing and in new markets. We’re delighted to be helping the team capitalise on this.”

The investment in Walker brings the total BGF funding in Scottish businesses to more than £200m.

As part of the group’s expansion plans, Chris Melrose has joined Walker as non-executive chairman, following an introduction by BGF. Melrose is a non-executive director of Ralph Martindale and of ADS, the aerospace, defence and security trade association.

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Scifi Eye: The terrifying potential of future weather

Mon, 2018-01-22 17:38

Scifi novelist Jon Wallace considers future weather and our struggle for survival with our natural foe and ally 

Many of our earliest stories were shaped by the weather, as the struggle for survival was decided in significant part by the success or failure of crops. It’s easy to see how, helpless before Nature’s fickle distribution of light and rain, early minds thought weather the work of cruel gods, drought and famine manifestations of their displeasure. Humans spent centuries praying, dancing or sacrificing to appease these deities and conjure rain, or indeed keep off too much of it: fearful of incurring an Abrahamic flood or other inclement biblical punishment, such as raining frogs and killer hailstorms.

The value of better understanding the weather helped meteorology become one of the most ancient and sought-after sciences, setting humanity on a path free of superstition and
ritual (although gods still raise their heads again in desperate moments — the governor of Texas ordered a day of prayer to break 2011’s devastating drought).

Extreme weather has provided the premise for many future stories

Stories developed alongside meteorology to reflect our increasing ability to measure and explain the weather and also our continuing inability to control it. So it is that individuals with
a power to bend the weather to their will have retained a supernatural quality, living often in comic book form as reimagined gods (Thor) or superpowered mutant (Storm of the X-Men). Occasionally the genre pokes fun at the very idea: Ron McKenna, of Douglas Adams’ So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, is a rain god cursed by the drizzle he carries with him wherever he goes.

In the last half century, however, the story has rather changed. As we have come to understand that human progress is making the weather yet more unpredictable, a new sense of helplessness before imminent catastrophe, biblical in scope, has set in: worse, the part of the gods is extinguished, making man himself the architect of terrifying storms, floods and droughts.

Apocalyptic fiction has bloomed as modern scifi writers explore the implications of this unwanted responsibility. Extreme weather has created many future stories: for example: the floods and freezing of The Day After Tomorrow. In turn, an entire branch of ‘cli-fi’ literature has emerged to guess at the manner in which gathering storm clouds will break: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital trilogy, alongside work such as The Water Knife.

For the scifi writer exhausted with such a relentlessly bleak outlook, the pages of The Engineer do offer at least the glimpse of an alternative future. Reports such as that on new Global Environmental Monitoring Satellites (GEMS), offering ‘a new paradigm in weather forecasting’, allow us to imagine salvation through the application of science: writers might be tempted to craft tales of future systems that might grant humanity control of snow, rain and heat.

Still, optimism can only stretch so far if we are to produce a good story: contented, sunlit futures have little scope for excitement. Rather the scifi author would do better to ask: would men fail to control the climate as much as they have their carbon emissions?

After all, even in a future of computerised world weather control, some would be unhappy: imagine a future group of forecasters, put out of work by weather machines and driven mad by
their loss of eminence. Seeking revenge, they hack the weather control programmes and
plunge the world into chaos, plagued by typhoons, fogs, electrical storms and droughts.
The forecasters return civilisation to a primitive state and become future gods, demanding sacrifices from the terrified populace in return for clement conditions.

Control of the weather may also not work out too well: imagine some future British government that deploys a device to bask the country in sunshine, hoping to boost tourism. The technology works perfectly, but the plan fails: visits to the UK drop off, as tourists are denied one of the defining features of a UK holiday: persistent drizzle.

Indeed, a culture such as England’s, where ice is so often broken via discussion of unwelcome precipitation, could be badly affected by perfectly ordered atmospheric conditions. We could tell the story of a future government that orders sun-drenched bank holidays and rain-soaked working hours in the hope of boosting productivity. Instead, the country is racked by depression, as the population stays home — unable to function without the soothing social bond of whining about the unpredictable ‘bloody weather’.

The scope for such stories is boundless; for, however much we might moan about grey skies and storms, the weather crafts our characters’ worlds and holds up a mirror to their state of mind. The more unsettled are conditions, the better the outlook for adventure.

Jon Wallace is a science fiction writer. He is author of Barricade, published by Gollancz

Read more articles by Jon Wallace here

The post Scifi Eye: The terrifying potential of future weather appeared first on The Engineer.

Electrical manipulation enables high-volume fluid experiments

Mon, 2018-01-22 17:26

MIT technique using electrical manipulation could help screen biological samples while avoiding drawbacks of microfluidic technology.

Droplets sit on the array MIT Media Lab/Jimmy Day

Microfluidics, where painstakingly-constructed networks of narrow channels and chambers guide small amounts of chemicals or biological materials into contact with each other to carry out sequences of reactions, have proved useful in testing arrays of related materials, especially in screening candidates for drug trials.

The technique, however, is notoriously temperamental so the MIT team, at the institution’s famous Media Laboratory, has developed a technique that uses electrical fields to move droplets of liquid precisely on a flat surface, mixing them together under controlled conditions.

This, they claim, could allow thousands of reactions to be carried out in parallel, and could prove more cost-effective than microfluidics while also allowing reactions to be carried out at larger scales, making the results easier to study.

“Traditional microfluidic systems use tubes, valves, and pumps,” said Udayan Umapathi, who led the development of the new system. “What this means is that they are mechanical, and they break down all the time. I noticed this problem three years ago, when I was at a synthetic biology company where I built some of these microfluidic systems and mechanical machines that interact with them. I had to babysit these machines to make sure they didn’t explode.”

Umapathi places droplets on the electrical array MIT Media Lab/Jimmy Day

Moreover, Umapathi added, as the interactions studied by the life science industry become more complex, so the microfluidic mechanisms needed to carry out reactions are becoming impractical.

“We need technologies to manipulate smaller and smaller-volume droplets,” he said. “Pumps, valves, and tubes quickly become complicated. In the machine that I built, it took me a week to assemble 100 connections. Let’s say you go from a scale of 100 connections to a machine with a million connections. You’re not going to be able to manually assemble that.”

The new technique does away with all the tubes, valves, and pumps. Instead, Umapathi used a simple printed circuit board: a polymer substrate with an array of copper electrodes and wires deposited on top of it. The surface was then coated with a dense layer of micrometre-diameter spheres of a hydrophobic material. This coating forces any water-based liquid falling on top of it to form into a spherical shape. Charging the electrode underneath the droplet pulls it towards the surface, flattening it out. If the charge is gradually reduced, while the adjacent electrode is activated at the same rate, the droplet is pulled across the surface.

Moving droplets requires high voltages, somewhere between 95 and 200 volts. But 300 times a second, a charged electrode in the MIT researchers’ device alternates between a high-voltage, low-frequency (1-kilohertz) signal and a 3.3-volt high-frequency (200-kilohertz) signal. The high-frequency signal enables the system to determine a droplet’s location, using essentially the same technology as touch-screen phones. The signal generated by the droplet also allows the device to determine its volume.

The software controlling the droplets automatically calculates their paths across the surface and coordinates the timing of successive operations. “The operator specifies the requirements for the experiment — for example, reagent A and reagent B need to be mixed in these volumes and incubated for this amount of time, and then mixed with reagent C,” Umapathi explained. “The operator doesn’t specify how the droplets flow or where they mix. It is all precomputed by the software.”

Umapathi believes this system is well-suited to technologies already widely in use in the pharmaceutical industry, which uses robots equipped with arrays of tiny pipettes to simultaneously drop small amounts of solutions of drug candidates or biological materials into reaction chambers for screening.

“If you look at drug discovery companies, one pipetting robot uses a million pipette tips in one week,” Umapathi said. “That is part of what is driving the cost of creating new drugs. I’m starting to develop some liquid assays that could reduce the number of pipetting operations 100-fold.”

The MIT team’s paper is to be published in the online journal MRS Advances.

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Shape memory alloy is key to morphing wings on experimental aircraft

Mon, 2018-01-22 16:42

NASA has successfully used a heat-activated shape memory alloy to morph an aircraft’s wings in flight tests, an advance with potential benefits for subsonic and future supersonic aircraft.

Prototype Technology-Evaluation Research Aircraft

The flights which took place at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, was part of the SAW (Spanwise Adaptive Wing) project that aims to validate the use of a lightweight material to fold the outer portions of aircraft wings and their control surfaces to optimal angles in flight.

SAW – a joint effort between Armstrong, NASA’s Glenn and Langley Research Centers, Boeing Research & Technology, and Area-I Inc. in Kennesaw, Georgia – may produce multiple in-flight benefits to subsonic and supersonic aircraft in the future.

Previous efforts to fold wings in flight has been dependent on conventional motors and hydraulic systems, which can be cumbersome to the aircraft. According to NASA, the SAW project intends to obtain a wide spectrum of aerodynamic advantages in flight by folding wings through the use of a shape memory alloy, which is built into to an actuator on the aircraft and folds the outer portion of an aircraft’s wings in flight.

The recent series of flight tests at Armstrong demonstrated the material’s application and use, by folding the wings between zero and 70 degrees up and down in flight.

“Folding wings has been done in the past, but we wanted to prove the feasibility of doing this using shape memory alloy technology, which is compact, lightweight, and can be positioned in convenient places on the aircraft,” said SAW Co-Principal Investigator Othmane Benafan.

On subsonic aircraft the potential aerodynamic benefit of folding the wings includes increased controllability, which may result in a reduced dependency on heavier parts of the aircraft, including the tail rudder.

One of the most significant potential benefits of folding wings in flight, however, is with supersonic flight.

“There’s a lot of benefit in folding the wing tips downward to sort of ‘ride the wave’ in supersonic flight, including reduced drag. This may result in more efficient supersonic flight,” SAW Principal Investigator Matt Moholt said. “Through this effort, we may be able to enable this element to the next generation of supersonic flight, to not only reduce drag but also increase performance, as you transition from subsonic to supersonic speeds. This is made possible using shape memory alloy.”

The shape memory alloy is triggered by temperature, and works by using thermal memory in a tube to move and function as an actuator. Upon heating, the alloy activates a twisting motion in the tubes, which moves the wing’s outer portion up or down.

To test the technology, NASA turned to Area-I to operate one of its remotely-controlled Prototype Technology-Evaluation Research Aircraft (PTERA).

For the flight-tests, PTERA took off with its wings at a level, zero-degree deflection. The testbed was flown in a large “racetrack” pattern, providing long legs of flight in which the necessary manoeuvres for the research could be done. During these manoeuvres, on-board controllers heated and cooled the SAW actuators, folding the wing panels to different angles between zero and 70 degrees.

For the first two flights, the wing tips were rigged to fold downward, while later flights featured rearranging the hardware to achieve 70-degree upward deflection. Wing-folding manoeuvres were achieved in flight within three minutes each.

Follow-on SAW flights will expand the functionality of the SAW system, to be able to fold wings 70 degrees up and down in a single flight. Tests are also expected to take place on the wing of an F-18.

Folding wings in flight is an innovation that had been studied using aircraft in the past, including the North American XB-70 Valkyrie in the 1960s.

CLICK HERE FOR MORE AEROSPACE NEWS

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Solid carbon fuel cells promise efficiency boost

Mon, 2018-01-22 16:10

Fuel cells powered by solid carbon could make electricity generation from coal and biomass cleaner and more efficient according to researchers at Idaho National Laboratory in the US.  

The group’s fuel cell design, which is described in the journal Advanced Materials incorporates innovations in three components: the anode, the electrolyte and the fuel which allow the fuel cell to utilise about three times as much carbon as earlier direct carbon fuel cell (DCFC) designs.

Research scientist Dong Ding is developing direct carbon fuel cells at INL’s Energy Innovation Laboratory

The new fuel cells also operate at lower temperatures and showed higher maximum power densities than earlier DCFCs, according to INL materials engineer Dong Ding.

Whereas conventional hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity from the chemical reaction between pure hydrogen and oxygen, DCFCs can use any number of carbon-based resources for fuel, including coal, coke, tar, biomass and organic waste.

Because DCFCs make use of readily available fuels, they are potentially more efficient than conventional hydrogen fuel cells. “You can skip the energy-intensive step of producing hydrogen,” Ding said.

Earlier DCFC designs have faced several drawbacks, not least the fact that they require temperatures of up to 900 degrees Celsius—which makes them less efficient and less durable and means they have to be constructed of expensive materials that can handle the heat. What’s more, early DCFC designs aren’t able to effectively utilise the carbon fuel.

Ding and his colleagues addressed these challenges by designing a true direct carbon fuel cell that’s capable of operating at lower temperatures — below 600 degrees Celsius. The fuel cell makes use of solid carbon, which is finely ground and injected via an airstream into the cell. The group tackled the need for high temperatures by developing an electrolyte using highly conductive materials—doped cerium oxide and carbonate. These materials maintain their performance under lower temperatures.

Next, they increased carbon utilisation by developing a 3D ceramic textile anode design that interlaces bundles of fibres together like a piece of cloth. The fibres themselves are hollow and porous. All of these features combine to maximise the amount of surface area that’s available for a chemical reaction with the carbon fuel.

Finally, the researchers developed a composite fuel made from solid carbon and carbonate.

The molten carbonate carries the solid carbon into the hollow fibres and the pinholes of the anode, increasing the power density of the fuel cell.

The resulting fuel cell looks like a green, ceramic watch battery that’s about as thick as a piece of construction paper. A larger square is 10cm on each side. The fuel cells can be stacked on top of one another depending on the application.

The technology has the potential for improved utilisation of carbon fuels, such as coal and biomass, because direct carbon fuel cells produce carbon dioxide without the mixture of other gases and particulates found in smoke from coal-fired power plants, for example. This makes it easier to implement carbon capture technologies, Ding said.

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Bristol team makes waves with acoustic tractor beam

Mon, 2018-01-22 16:00

In what is claimed to be a world first, engineers at Bristol University have developed an acoustic tractor beam that can stably trap objects larger than the beam’s soundwaves.

The device works by creating acoustic vortices, tiny tornado-like structures with loud sound surrounding a silent core. It had previously been thought these vortices were limited to supporting objects no bigger than their wavelengths, with larger objects spun out of the field by the rotational motion imparted to them. However, by constantly altering the direction the vortices spin, the rotation of the objects in the beam can be controlled, allowing larger objects to be levitated with stability.

Published in Physical Review Letters, the study details how the team used ultrasonic waves at a pitch of 40kHz, a frequency similar to that which only bats can hear. Rapidly changing the twisting direction of the vortices allowed the researchers to expand the size of the silent core, which supported larger objects.

“Using acoustics to levitate people may even be feasible”

A 2cm diameter polystyrene sphere – over two acoustic wavelengths in size – is so far the largest object successfully suspended in the tractor beam.

“Acoustic researchers had been frustrated by the size limit for years, so it’s satisfying to find a way to overcome it,” said lead author Dr Asier Marzo, from Bristol’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “I think it opens the door to many new applications.”  

Those potential applications include new methods for drug delivery and micro-surgery, as well as contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without needing to be touched. As the technology advances, using acoustics to levitate people may even be feasible.  

“In the future, with more acoustic power it will be possible to hold even larger objects,” said senior research associate Dr Mihai Caleap, who developed the simulations for the device.

“This was only thought to be possible using lower pitches making the experiment audible and dangerous for humans.”

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Beleagured diesel could use a break — or a breakthrough

Fri, 2018-01-19 20:29
Viewpoint

The air pollution issues associated with diesel have been well-publicised, but new technologies and approaches – and a focus on core markets — might be its saviour, says Bill Visnic

Start talking car-business “big-picture” with engineers and once you hash out autonomy for the thousandth time, the discussion invariably comes to diesel. Is diesel over and done with?

Mercedes is among the automotive giants to withdraw diesel models from the US

Everyone knows the Volkswagen impact, which for now has caused diesel compatriots BMW and Mercedes-Benz to almost completely withdraw diesel models from US showrooms. The VW scandal generated plenty of still-fomenting blowback in Europe, too.

But even with pressure from ongoing gasoline-engine design innovations — Mazda has announced it is ready to launch a production compression-ignition gasoline engine in 2019, for example, and there’s a growing menu of electrical enhancements — diesel doesn’t quite look dead. After all, what car company can turn its back on 40% thermal efficiency that comes as easy as falling out of bed in the morning—bundled with the customer-pleasing torque a hybrid can’t hope to match?

Ford powertrain chief engineer Pete Dowding is talking the talk, at least. He concedes that diesel is battered at the moment, but he sees a strong, high-volume truck market where diesel is still a magic word. Ford truck buyers, he said, are hungry for the coming 3.0-L V6 diesel for the F-150 this spring. And after an emissions-scandal scare of its own, Fiat Chrysler sold the EPA on an emissions-system reprogramming and FCA’s Ram brand is back in business with its popular diesel for light-duty pickups (as well as the Jeep Grand Cherokee).

But there’s no denying the diesel pandemic that Volkswagen started in the U.S. has bled out to Europe and even the famously diesel-worshipping continent has picked up the torches to pursue the Frankenstein monster. Several large cities have outright bans on the books or in play. Britain and France took a larger view, proposing to prohibit all internal-combustion vehicle sales by 2040.

Even in Germany, the cradle of all things compression-ignition, diesel might be losing not just the perception war, but the battle with fast-moving electrification technologies, too. Late summer saw German automakers in a desperate-looking gambit to tweak the engine-management software of up to 5 million vehicles to bring oxides of nitrogen (NOx) output in line with today’s Euro 6 regulations. Oh, and a €500-million fund to improve urban air quality.

Seemingly calling for a return to reason, BMW Chairman Harald Krüger said, “For almost two years now, diesel technology which is cutting-edge, highly-efficient and popular with customers has been deliberately and publicly discredited. This has caused tremendous uncertainty among millions of drivers and it’s not going to get us anywhere.”

Indeed, Germany Inc. is working hard to protect the diesel, not only from short-sighted political knee-jerk but also from the expanding notion that battery-electric technology is ready for high-volume primetime. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was quoted in September by Bloomberg as saying the onus is on the country’s entire auto sector to “address unforgivable mistakes,” but she stressed, “that doesn’t mean we have to rob the whole industry of its future.”

Dr Rolf Bulander, chairman of Robert Bosch Mobility Solutions, told journalists at an August media event that he sees the diesel as a core power source for passenger vehicles beyond 2025.

“What is amiss when Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City decide to ban diesel vehicles from their streets from 2025? In our view, this is ecologically misguided—or, at best, environmental protection from a ‘blinkered’ perspective. Blinkered if only because such driving bans ignore diesel’s outstanding efficiency, which is still needed to limit global warming. But, also, blinkered because it underestimates the potential still latent in this technology.”

All well and good. But there’s no question diesel’s emissions-perception problem isn’t going away. The answer: rather than run from it, embrace it.

Leave it to Honda, perhaps, to adopt exactly that approach. The engine experts there recently boasted that the new European-market 1.6-L iDTCI diesel was one of the world’s first engines to be certified under the watch of the newly-adopted Worldwide Harmonized Light-Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP). A crucial component of the WLTP is data input modelled from on-the-road emissions testing widely known as real-world driving emissions (RDE).

Yes — the very same scrutinizing that exposed VW’s cheating.

Honda carefully admits its new diesel achieved its exceptional RDE results with some slick engine-design enhancements and “a new NOx Storage Converter (NSC) system with larger catalysts and a higher content of noble metals (silver, platinum and neodymium) that store nitrogen oxide gas until the regeneration cycle.”

If you’re reading “added cost,” go to the head of the class.

But until after-treatment expense can be reduced or a combustion innovation improves engine-out emissions, the best thing the industry can do is to keep bragging about acing those new RDE tests.

“Future mobility will definitely depend on state-of-the-art diesel as well,” BMW’s Krüger declared.

I agree. But just to be on the safe side, get cracking on the next big diesel breakthrough, car industry. Do it not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.

Bill Visnic is editorial director for the Society of Automotive Engineers. This article was originally published by FISITA, the international federation of automotive engineers, on its blog, and is reproduced by permission.

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Smart valve-train technology could breathe new life into internal combustion engine

Fri, 2018-01-19 18:08

The UK inventors of an innovative valve-train technology which dispenses with the traditional camshaft claim it could radically improve petrol engine performance. Jon Excell reports

Major leaps in mature technologies are relatively rare occurrences. And there are few more mature technologies in widespread use than the internal combustion engine, where gains in efficiency and performance tend to be incremental rather than earth-shattering.

IVA replaces the camshaft with valves that are opened and closed by a set of digitally controlled motors

But now a small automotive consultancy in Leamington Spa claims to have bucked this trend with the development of an innovative digital valve-train system that it says could ultimately improve a petrol engine’s fuel economy and reduce its emissions by as much as 20 per cent.

Camcon’s Intelligent Valve Actuation (IVA) technology, which has been under development for the past six years and has now completed rigorous dynamometer and road trials effectively digitises one of the last remaining analogue systems on a combustion engine by replacing the camshaft with valves that are opened and closed by a set of digitally controlled motors. The firm’s Chief Operating Officer Mark Gostick, who runs the company with CEO and engine veteran Roger Stone, told The Engineer that the “unprecedented” level of control the technology brings to valve timing, lift and period could breathe new life into the IC engine.

Explaining the system’s operation, Gostick said that it replaces the connection to the camshaft with a set of torque-dense electric motors that actively drive the opening and closing of each individual valve (a so-called desmodronic mechanism). This means that the system dispenses with the valve spring traditionally used to close the engine valves, which — said Gostick — significantly reduces the amount of power it needs and end enables the valves to be far more precisely controlled.

“Every other element of the combustion process — fuel and spark — have been under control for some time,” he said, “but the air charge, which is in many senses the most important, has still essentially been under analogue control.”

He added that the system has major advantages over many existing efforts to control the valve-train. “Even the best variable valve-trains are limited in the flexibility you have to open the valve at a point in time when the engine wants it rather than when the valve-train can give it to you. This system enables you to set the timing, the period, the trajectory, the shape of the valve event, and control it in real time.”

During trials of the technology Camcon worked closely worked with Jaguar Land Rover to fit the system to one its most advanced petrol engines, the 2 litre, 4 cylinder Ingenium engine. After 1000 hours of dynamometer testing the system demonstrated fuel economy improvements of 7.5 per cent, a figure which, according to a paper on the technology presented at the 2017 Aachen Colloquium, only scratches the surface of the technology’s potential.

Gostick said that these trials have demonstrate that the technology could be relatively simply applied to existing engine designs, a key point for OEMs wary of investing in new engine development programmes. “We want to show that you don’t have to develop a specific engine around this; you can graft it onto the top of an existing engine design and still get benefits,” he said.

The technology is also claimed to hold great promise for new engine designs, in particular smaller, high performing engines that could be used alongside electric motors as part of a hybrid powertrain system. “Because IVA makes an engine much more efficient, you can potentially make the engine itself smaller, further increasing the space in the engine bay, further lending itself to hybrid applications,” said Gostick. Even more space for electrification components is freed up by the fact that the system dispenses with the need for a timing chain at the front of the engine, he added.

Although the concept has been under discussion for a number of years, Gostick said that it has only recently become technically feasible. This is thanks to advances in a range of underpinning technologies such as rare earth magnets that have enabled the team to build the required torque-dense motors; the emergence of electronic components able to operate in the high temperatures of an engine compartment: and, of course, fast and cheap processors. “Incremental improvements in the all the underlying technologies enables you to put them together in a system in way that hasn’t previously been possible and at a cost which can be made acceptable to the auto industry,” Gostick said.

During the trial period, which has also seen the system installed on demonstrator vehicle supplied by JLR, the team has learned many lessons about the technology’s potential.  “We’ve found we can induce air charge motion, which gives you more efficient mixing and therefore better combustion; we can reduce pumping losses because we can open the valve at the appropriate time for the appropriate amount and we can also reopen the valves — there are some combustion processes where you need to be able to inject bits of exhaust as you open the inlet valve. We’ve demonstrated that we can do those valve motions which aren’t possible with a mechanical system which still retains a link to the crank.”

To enable industry to further explore the technology’s potential, Camcon is now developing a single cylinder engine equipped with IVA to enable automotive development departments to carry out combustion research. “What we’ve got is a new tool which can start a lot of combustion development and enable you to start thinking about how you can implement some of these combustion strategies that people have known about for a long time but haven’t been able to do,” said Gostick.

It stands a good chance of being almost ubiquitous because the impact it can have is significant across the whole IC engine

In terms of commercialising the technology, he estimates that the route to production will take around five years. Alongside Jaguar Land Rover, which has supported the development of the technology, a number of OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers have also expressed an interest, he added.

If a manufacturer were to take the plunge and out the system into production, Gostick believes it has a good chance of becoming huge. “As with a lot of technologies it either does or it doesn’t,” he said. “If it does it stands a good chance of being almost ubiquitous because the impact it can have is significant across the whole IC engine.”

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Digitising chemistry leads to 3D-printed drug factories

Fri, 2018-01-19 17:00

Glasgow team encodes synthesis of drug molecules, resulting in portable on-demand apparatus

One of the barriers for the use of many drugs in remote locations is the difficulty of making them. The active ingredients for drugs are complex molecules, and their manufacture is equally complicated; as well as sometimes being hazardous. The Glasgow team, led by Prof Leroy (Lee) Cronin, claims that its discovery might help to change that.

The Cronin group’s reactionware for making baclofen Lee Cronin/Sergey Zalesskiy

The Cronin Group has for some years been developing what it calls “reactionware”: vessels containing catalysts and other materials that are designed to produce specific chemicals when simple, readily-available starting materials are added. These vessels are designed to be made by 3D printing on low-cost equipment, from cheap materials like polyethylene.

In their latest research, published in Science, the group describes the translation of bench-scale synthesis of drugs ingredients into a digital code which, in turn, “guides production of a three-dimensional printed device that encloses the entire synthetic route internally via simple operations.”

Making good on the concept, the paper describes how Cronin’s team applied their technique to a compound known as baclofen, a muscle relaxant, resulting in printing a set of five interconnected reaction vessels, with up to 32ml capacity, that perform four chemical reactions in 12 steps including filtration and evaporation. Other reactionware produced an anticonvulsant agent and as proton-pump inhibitor, used to counter stomach ulcers.

The vessels were printed on Ultimaker 3D printers, which are commercially available, pausing the programme to drop in components such as magnetic stirrer bars and different types of filter modules. The printing process allowed the incorporation of features like ports to introduce nitrogen and to pump reactants in.

“This approach will allow the on-demand production of chemicals and drugs that are in short supply, hard to make at big facilities, and allow customisation to tailor them to the application,” Cronin told Science.

The reactionware can be made in a commercially-available 3D printer Lee Cronin/Sergey Zalesskiy

Another advantage is that the reactionware is designed to be used according to a recipe that anyone can follow, meaning that unlike a drug plant, a qualified chemist or engineer does not have to operate the process. “It will allow organic chemists to focus on creating new molecules,” he said.

Cronin envisages the technique making the digitised synthesis into a computer file that can be shared in the same way that digital music and video are now passed around, making compounds that are currently very expensive, or too short-lived to manufacture centrally and distribute, such a radioactively-labelled substances, more readily available to those who need them or want to work with them.

He acknowledges that this might lead to regulatory complications, but believes that the advantages of the technique, particularly in its potential to create new business models, are such that regulators will be keen to find a way to make it work.

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Emirates order ensures A380 production for ‘at least 10 years’

Fri, 2018-01-19 16:57

Airbus will produce A380 superjumbo passenger jets for at least another ten years following the receipt of an order from Emirates worth $16bn.

Emirates Airbus A380

The deal for 36 A380 aircraft is comprised of 20 firm orders and 16 options. Deliveries will commence from 2020.

Along with the airline’s 101 A380 fleet and its current order backlog for 41 aircraft, this new order brings Emirates’ commitment to the A380 programme to 178 aircraft, worth over $60bn.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and chief executive, Emirates Airline and Group said: “We’ve made no secret of the fact that the A380 has been a success for Emirates. Our customers love it, and we’ve been able to deploy it on different missions across our network, giving us flexibility in terms of range and passenger mix.

“Some of the new A380s we’ve just ordered will be used as fleet replacements. This order will provide stability to the A380 production line. We will continue to work closely with Airbus to further enhance the aircraft and onboard product, so as to offer our passengers the best possible experience. The beauty of this aircraft is that the technology and real estate on board gives us plenty of room to do something different with the interiors.”

Sheikh Ahmed signed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with John Leahy, chief operating officer – customers, Airbus Commercial Aircraft.

“This new order underscores Airbus’ commitment to produce the A380 at least for another ten years,” said Leahy. “I’m personally convinced more orders will follow Emirates’ example and that this great aircraft will be built well into the 2030s.”

On January 15, 2018, Airbus announced delivery figures across its product range, with a total of 718 aircraft delivered to 85 customers. The 2017 total comprises: 558 single aisle A320 Family (181 A320neo variants); 67 A330s; 78 A350 XWBs (up by nearly 60 per cent from 2016) and 15 of the 575-passenger-capacity A380s.

During a related webinar, Leahy suggested the A380 programme would have to be closed down, pending the order from Emirates.

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Robot implant stretches cells to counter rare birth defect

Fri, 2018-01-19 16:39

A transatlantic team of engineers and clinicians has developed a motorised robotic implant to treat a rare birth defect that affects the oesophagus.

The device – created by researchers from Sheffield University’s Engineering Faculty and Boston’s Children Hospital, Harvard Medical School – was designed for infants with oesophageal atresia. Affecting around one in 4,000 babies in the US and Europe, the disease is characterised by a gap in the oesophagus that stops food reaching the stomach.

Traditionally, the defect is treated using the Foker procedure, whereby sutures are used to manually bring the upper and lower parts of the food pipe together. But while this method helped inspire the robot, the team believes the new technology can deliver better outcomes.

“Although the technique is one of the best standards, sometimes the sutures surgeons attach to the oesophagus can tear which can result in repetitive surgeries or scar tissue can form that can cause problems for the patient in the future,” said Dr Dana Damian from Sheffield’s Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering.

“The robot we developed addresses this issue because it measures the force being applied and can be adapted at any time throughout the treatment. With it being implanted in the patient, it means they have – in effect – a doctor by their side all the time, monitoring them and changing their treatment when needed.”

Attached to the oesophagus by two rings, the tiny device has an incorporated motor that stimulates the cells by gently pulling the tissue. Using two types of sensors – one to measure the tension in the tissue and another to measure tissue displacement – the robot monitors and applies traction depending on the tissue properties. The implant is powered by a control unit which remains outside of the body, attached to a vest.

“The biggest challenge we faced was to design a robot that works in a technology-hostile environment, and to develop a robust physiologically-relevant interaction with the tissue that promotes its growth when there are so many unknowns about the underlying mechanisms,” said Damian.

“The robot we designed had to be soft and durable, air and water impermeable, abrasion resistant, non-corrosive and be able to be implanted for long-term treatment.”

According to the team, the applications of the robot could potentially be extended to other tubular tissues such as the intestine and the vascular system, and used to treat conditions such as short bowel syndrome (SBS). The research is published in the journal Science Robotics.

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Run2Rail to investigate carbon fibre and 3D printed parts for trains

Fri, 2018-01-19 13:35

Lighter, more durable trains could be developed as a result of Run2Rail, a European project investigating the use of carbon fibre and 3D printing techniques in bogies and other sub-frames.

Rail bogie

A key part of the 2.7m EU-funded Run2Rail project is being led by researchers at Huddersfield University’s Institute for Railway Research (IRR), and will consider the use of novel materials in the running gear of trains.

This could reduce the weight of bogies while maintaining their strength, according to Prof Simon Iwnicki, director of the IRR.

As part of the project, which also includes Politecnico di Milano, consultants RINA and the Italian engineering and design company Blue Group, the researchers will investigate novel designs for two types of rail vehicle: a low-speed metro train and a high-speed intercity vehicle.

“With the low speed vehicle we are thinking that instead of having two bogies underneath, each with two wheel-sets and an axle, we would have either one wheel-set at each end of the vehicle, or four separate wheels,” said Iwnicki.

For the intercity train, the researchers will consider novel body shell construction, he said.

Once they have modelled the two vehicles, the researchers will carry out computer simulations to calculate the loads on each of the components, before designing the materials to be used, he said.

The researchers will investigate the use of additive manufacturing techniques using steel powders, in particular for producing smaller components, said Iwnicki.

They are also focusing on the use of lightweight carbon fibre composites, which have the advantage of allowing bogie frames to be constructed layer-by-layer using robots.

“In this way you can ensure the robots arrange the fibres in exactly the positions you want them, so the component has strength in just the right places,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges of the project will be to understand the failure modes of components built from these novel materials, including fatigue and de-bonding of structures.

The project is one of four research packages being undertaken under the auspices of the Run2Rail programme, which is aiming to develop lighter, quieter, more reliable and more comfortable rolling stock. Run2Rail is itself part of a wider 1bn joint undertaking between industry and the EU, called Shift2Rail.

The project is due to be completed by August 2019.

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J H Lavender joins select band of JLRQ awardees

Thu, 2018-01-18 21:45

J H Lavender has become the only privately owned manufacturer of aluminum gravity and pressure die castings in Britain to be awarded a JLRQ Award, the quality trust mark for Jaguar Land Rover.

The award recognises the West Midlands’ company’s efforts in delivering high levels of performance in relation to quality, cost and on time deliveries to Jaguar Land Rover (JLR).

“Such awards cannot be attained without the dedication of the whole team,” said JHL managing director Ian Timings.  “The fact that we have received this award in our Centenary year makes it all the more special.”

The West Bromwich-based company secured its first contract with JLR in 2010 with production volumes starting a year later. JHL now supplies machined and assembled products to JLR plants in the UK and overseas for a number of vehicles

The company has also invested £6m in plant & equipment since 2012 and has added to quality accreditations with the addition of IATF16949/2016, one of the automotive industry’s most widely used international standards for quality management, and ISO9001 upgrades.

“The company is now in a very strong position as we have a solid foundation to support our continued growth and expansion into our 101st year of manufacturing,” said Timings. “Our first target is the completion of our new machining facility due by the end of Quarter 1 2018. This brand new bespoke facility will be dedicated to the machining and assembly of high integrity parts primarily for the automotive market.”

Founded in 2010, JLRQ is defined by JLR as a set of fundamental quality and manufacturing disciplines which, when followed, ensure a supplier’s success and drive a supplier’s continuous improvement. Suppliers are expected to attain a certain mark, and to put the tools in place to maintain excellence and demonstrate continuous year-on-year improvements.

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UK-built spacecraft to help extend life of communication satellites

Thu, 2018-01-18 19:55

Two UK-built spacecraft designed to latch on to ageing communication satellites and keep them in their assigned orbit, thereby extending their life, will be launched in 2020.

Space Drone

The announcement follows the signing of a $100m contract between UK-based Effective Space, which is developing the Space Drone spacecraft, and a major satellite operator.

Once launched, the spacecraft will be used to control the position and orientation of two communication satellites in Geosynchronous Earth Orbit, potentially extending their life by several years, according to Shahida Barick, head of satellite operations at Effective Space.

Most satellites are designed for 15 years’ service, at the end of which their hardware systems typically still work perfectly but their propulsion system can no longer control their position, said Barick.

“These multi-million pound satellites are decommissioned essentially because they run out of fuel,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to decommission satellites that are otherwise healthy and providing services that are generating millions of pounds in revenue.”

The Space Drone spacecraft, which are capable of carrying out multiple missions within their 15-year lifespan, weigh less than 400kg. They are equipped with electric thrusters and a universal docking system that allows them to dock with almost all of the approximately 400 communications satellites in orbit.

“As [Space Drone] approaches the communications satellite it will deploy a set of four identical docking arms, which will latch onto the satellite’s launch interface ring,” she said.

This is an extremely tough part of the satellite, used to attach the spacecraft to their launch rocket.

“Once we are latched onto the ring, we essentially become part of that satellite, and act as an external jet pack,” said Barick.

After docking with a satellite, the drones will use their electric thrusters, which are attached to another set of protruding arms, to keep the combined spacecraft in the correct position and orientation.

When the satellites are ready for decommissioning, the drones can simply use their thrusters to move them into a safe “graveyard orbit”.

The agreement is one of the first commercial contracts for in-orbit satellite servicing.

The Space Drone spacecraft could also be used for removing space debris, to support low-earth orbit or medium-earth-orbit constellations, and for in-space exploration, mining and manufacturing logistics.

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Artificial octopus sucker acts as a robotic anchoring module

Thu, 2018-01-18 18:35

Efforts are underway to replicate the way in which Octopus suckers work, an advance that could lead to applications in industrial, medical and disaster monitoring scenarios.

Led by Dr Sina Sareh, academic leader in Robotics at the Royal College of Arts, the project has built a biologically inspired soft artificial sucker that acts as a robotic anchoring module.

The overall aim is for the sensorised mechanism, described in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, to be integrated into robots, including drones, to enhance mobility, remain on location, or manipulate objects.

The natural world contains many aquatic creatures that can attach themselves to objects, but the octopus has been singled out for its ability to attach to a wider range of objects and surfaces in its environment with varying degrees of force.

“It can attach to something very delicate, like octopus egg capsules,” said Dr Sareh. “It can grab them, it can manipulate them and change their position without damaging because it has a soft interface for gripping.

“At the same time it can stiffen and attach to rocks, for example, to stand against a storm surge and waves…so this is completely diverse functionality in one system.”

The research builds on a greater understanding of the acetabulum, which is the cup-like upper part of the sucker, and the infundibulum which is the lower part that makes contact with surfaces in an octopus’s grip. The infundibulum is covered in grooves which spread low pressure produced by the acetabular over the whole infundibular surface. This aids suction and helps octopuses hold better onto surfaces.

In order to replicate this effect, the team developed a new stiffness-gradient structure for the anchoring module based on two types of silicone materials; the hard portion is capable of containing vacuum pressure while the soft portion is highly conformable to create a seal to varied contact surfaces.

Dr Sareh explained that a single sensory unit uses a 4-core fibre-optic cable to measure proximity and tactile information seamlessly for use in robot motion planning, as well as measuring the state of firmness of its anchor.

The resulting sensory-physical system – integrating a physical process with sensors and computation to monitor or control the process – consists of a soft artificial infundibulum and acetabulum parts integrated with the sensory unit and a vacuum supply pipe. The pressure was supplied by a vacuum pump via a vacuum regulator with an onboard pressure sensor.

In this configuration, the artificial sucker is capable of reversible attachment (switching between attachment and detachment with an electrical signal, and hence, there is no need for a separate peeling mechanism), quantifying the firmness of the anchor to attach to, and identifying suitable contact surfaces.

To date, an approximately 25mm diameter sucker has been developed by Dr Sareh and co-authors, but he explained that the system is scalable and that smaller artificial suckers will be developed in an array structure in the next stage of research.

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Video of the week: Rice chemists give helping hand to carbon nanotubes

Thu, 2018-01-18 18:13

This week’s video comes from Texas where a new hands-on technique is being used to produce carbon nanotubes.

Carbon nanotubes have a range of desirable properties, including very high tensile strength, plus high elasticity and flexibility.

Here, Rice chemists – including lead researcher Matteo Pasquali – describe how they are taking a low-tech approach to produce short lengths of strong, conductive fibres from bulk nanotubes in about an hour. The research is published in Advanced Materials.

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New Manchester scholarship in memory of alumnus

Thu, 2018-01-18 18:00

A new mechanical engineering scholarship for the University of Manchester has been launched in memory of the life and career of an alumnus.

One first-year student will be selected annually to receive £2,250 during each year of study (Credit: University of Manchester)

The Alasdair Sinclair scholarship has been set up by Runcorn-based Mexichem, the refrigerant manufacturer and supplier where Alasdair worked until his sudden death two years ago.  One first-year student will be selected each year, receiving £2,250 annually over the course of their studies, as well as summer work placements with Mexichem.

“Alasdair was a popular mechanical engineering manager who worked at Mexichem’s Runcorn site for 27 years,” explained Tipu Salahuddin, site manager at Mexichem. “We were all shocked and saddened by his unexpected death in December 2015 and wanted to do something positive and long-lasting in his memory”.

“We have worked with Alasdair’s wife, Marie, to develop this scholarship in his honour. The scholarship will provide financial assistance to deserving students at Alasdair’s alma mater, the University of Manchester.”

The scholarship has been set up by Runcorn-based Mexichem, the refrigerant manufacturer and supplier where Alasdair worked until his sudden death two years ago (Credit: Mexichem)

According to Mexichem, the scholarships will be awarded to mechanical engineering students from diverse backgrounds with an interest in the chemicals manufacturing sector.  Those selected will be free to spend the money as they see fit, whether on tuition fees, travel for research, or study materials such as laptops or textbooks.

“Being chosen for the scholarship can boost a student’s self-confidence, as it is based upon previous academic merit,” said David Tyson, development officer at the University of Manchester.

“The chosen student will gain a prestigious scholarship to add to their CV, a fantastic work placement and £2,250 per year, which helps to offset the costs incurred at university and aid them in making the most of their time at Manchester.”

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Microfabricated milliDelta robot set for role in manufacturing and medicine

Thu, 2018-01-18 16:43

A miniaturised milliDelta robot developed at Harvard University promises applications in manufacturing and medicine thanks to the innovative way in which it has been made.

Unfolded milliDelta

The milliDelta robot, reported in Science Robotics, was developed by Robert Wood’s team at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

By integrating their microfabrication technique with high-performance composite materials that can incorporate flexural joints and bending actuators, the milliDelta can operate with high speed, force, and micrometre precision, reportedly making it compatible with a range of micromanipulation tasks.

In 2011, inspired by pop-up books and origami, Wood’s team developed a micro-fabrication approach that enables the assembly of robots from flat sheets of composite materials. Pop-up MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) manufacturing has since been used for the construction of dynamic centimetre-scale machines that can walk away, or fly, as seen with RoboBee, can fly. In their new study, the researchers applied their approach to develop a Delta robot measuring 15mm-by-15mm-by-20mm.

“The physics of scaling told us that bringing down the size of Delta robots would increase their speed and acceleration, and pop-up MEMS manufacturing with its ability to use any material or combination of materials seemed an ideal way to attack this problem,” Wood said in a statement. “This approach also allowed us to rapidly go through a number of iterations that led us to the final milliDelta.”

The milliDelta design is said to incorporate a composite laminate structure with embedded flexural joints that approximate the more complicated joints found in large-scale Delta robots.

“With the help of an assembly jig, this laminate can be precisely folded into a millimetre-scale Delta robot. The milliDelta also utilises piezoelectric actuators, which allow it to perform movements at frequencies 15 to 20 times higher than those of other currently available Delta robots,” said first-author Hayley McClintock, a Wyss Institute Staff Researcher on Wood’s team.

In addition, the team demonstrated that the milliDelta can operate in a workspace of about seven cubic millimetres and that it can apply forces and exhibit trajectories that, together with its high frequencies, could make it suitable for micromanipulations in industrial pick-and-place processes and microscopic surgeries such as retinal microsurgeries performed on the human eye.

Putting the milliDelta’s potential for microsurgeries and other micromanipulations to a first test, the researchers explored their robot as a hand tremor-cancelling device.

“We first mapped the paths that the tip of a toothpick circumscribed when held by an individual, computed those, and fed them into the milliDelta robot, which was able to match and cancel them out,” said co-first author Fatma Zeynep Temel, PhD, a SEAS Postdoctoral Fellow in Wood’s team.

The researchers think that specialised milliDelta robots could either be added on to existing robotic devices or be developed as standalone devices.

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