Engineering News (May 2017)

Flying round in circles

Round runways could become a reality according to researcher Henk Hesselink from the Netherland Aerospace Centre. The researcher would like to see circular runways in use – and it’s not as mad as it sounds. He proposes a completely circular runway external to a centralised airport hub, which would both save space and also be friendlier to the environment due to increased fuel economy and a reduction in noise pollution. Tests within flight simulators are currently being undertaken.

The idea is that airports will have a complete circuit surrounding them  When aircraft land and take off, they will be allocated an area of the runway, thus allowing up to 3 planes at a time on the same runway. Hesselink told the BBC in a recent statement, “Passengers will experience a slight turn, like a turn in the air. Because of the centrifugal forces the aircraft will automatically go slower and go towards the centre of the runway.”

Hesselink’s research has been funded by the European commission, and it has been considered by experts that a circular track with a diameter of 3km would be just as safe as airports as we know them today. Research will continue though, as there are no current plans to build a circular runway just yet.

Crossrail is here at last…

The Crossrail line, stretching for more than 60 miles from Reading to Heathrow through tunnels under central London, has commenced practice runs before it is officially launched. The new £14.8 billion railway was officially christened the ‘Elizabeth Line’ in a ceremony held by the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnsonlast year.  The fast speed cross rail service in London is due to open in May, however the whole line is not due to be fully operational until 2019, with the central tunnels finally opening in December 2018. Transport for London have been keeping much of the information under wraps and an exact date has yet to be released.

The new train line has boosted the UK’s economy reportedly by billions of pounds and has supported the creation of thousands of new job opportunities and homes.

It is expected that 11 trains are to be introduced between now and September – the new trains have already being spotted at Liverpool Street station this week, as the line between Liverpool Street and Shenfield has been opened for practice runs.

The Elizabeth Line when fully open will run from Reading to Heathrow and from Abbey Wood to Shenfield.  It is hoped that the new line will increase connection times between London’s busiest stations.  The journey from Paddington to Tottenham Court Road will take only 4 minutes, instead of the current time of 20 minutes.

The Elizabeth Line will introduce a brand new service, stopping at 40 accessible stations, of which, 10 stations have been newly introduced to the line, with the other 30 being recently upgraded. It is estimated that the line will transport more than half a million passengers per day, with an overall number expected in excess of 200 million passengers travelling on the line per year.

Uber Delivery Service

Uber are about to venture into on-demand urban transportation and delivery logistic services  in partnership with Aurora Flight Sciences, with a ground-breaking development of the world’s first networking vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

The Uber Elevate Network is intended to provide a low cost, on demand urban transportation and delivery service, utilising unused and redesigned rooftops, existing helipads and land that surrounds motorway interchanges in the USA.

Aurora CEO, John Langford said, “The Uber Elevate mission is all about low noise, high reliability, and low cost. By drawing on our nearly 30 years of successful autonomy and robotic programs, Aurora is well positioned to deliver on this urban solution. We have already built and flown the first proof-of-concept aircraft and we’re excited to partner with Uber in accelerating the eVTOL initiative.”

The notion has been derived from Aurora’s XV-24A X-plane that they currently use for the US Department of Defence, and on other aircraft that the company have designed and established.

Aurora has made changes, using the independent flight guidance system from its Centaur aircraft and other systems from their AACUS helicopter program, along with the XV-24A battery electric propulsion system to form their eVTOL design.

The urban transportation solution will allow and enable registered users to access the Uber Elevate Network via computer and mobile software apps, requesting the service using their phones or computers, much like the passenger transportation service that they currently offer.

Although there is no confirmed date for the service to commence, the programme has aimed to deliver 50 aircraft for testing by 2020. The first such test successfully took place on April 20th.

Recruitment Crisis

The Head of Technical Recruitment from Matchtech has announced concerns regarding recruitment within the engineering and technical sectors, after reports that Atkins, the UK’s largest engineering and design consultancy is to be sold to Canadian SNC-Lavalin, following an announcement on the 20th April for a proposed £2.1billion business deal.

Grahame Carter has backed up these concerns by reporting that US firms have in the past brought in their own successful ready-made teams and recruitment models, and have been also known to remove the personalised touches that the UK recruitment sector supplies by taking away the “human-to-human, face-to-face contact between recruiter and hiring managers”, by bringing in recruitment software to the UK. He also commented that by recruiting staff this way, it could “remove the backbone of UK recruitment”.

Carter commented that Atkins have over 40 manned office in the UK and is a market leader and great example to businesses in forming relationships with recruitment agencies and recruiting staff. He said “We have proudly built our business by regularly speaking to the recruitment teams but also, when agreed, the hiring managers. The recruitment managers are in the best position to tell us exactly what they are looking for, once that level of trust is built they believe in us to find the best person to do the job.”

This size of merger could damage the recruitment industry.  Relationships between business and recruitment consultancies have always been important to both businesses and the agencies, by building a rapport with the agencies they have built, with the knowledge of what they are looking for in an employee and the kind of person that would be good for their business. This comes down to the personalities of employers and employees alike; by bringing in a software based recruitment consultant, personalities would not be taken into account and UK job seekers could be vitally missed when criteria on a computer based search system is not met.

A £ 2.2 billion merger is also on the cards between the Aberdeen-based Wood Group and Amec Foster Wheeler in the same sector. Worryingly, there are expectations of further consolidations within the industry, creating concerns that the UK’s engineering sector could end up as a series of smaller businesses alongside large global engineering companies, and as a consequence, the middle-size companies in the sector could find themselves targets for takeovers.

Illuminating use of light and oil

Engineering experts from MIT have developed a new system to control water movement over surfaces by using light, with a view to enhancing the technology used in microfluidic diagnostic devices that can be reprogrammed to separate fluids, such as water from petroleum and oils at drilling stations and rigs.

The initial aim of the project was to study and research ways to separate oils from water. The research used examples using frothy mixtures of briny water and crude oil produced from oil wells. Findings discovered that the more the mixture of fluids were put together, the finer the droplets of water became – thus making the harder for the fluids to separate.

Electrostatic methods are sometimes used to separate the fluids – however, these have been found to be energy-intensive and often don’t work if the water has a high content of saline. The team followed this research up by using and exploring the use of photoresponsive surfaces – this is where the response of the water can be affected and altered by light exposure. Photoresponsive materials are often found to be an active ingredient in most sunscreens – notably Titaniam Dioxide. By introducing surfaces that interact with water, a property known as ‘wettability’ was then activated and becomes responsive to the visible light. Researchers went on to find that they could then separate the oil from the water after forcing individual droplets of water to spread over the surface.  They went on to discover that the larger amount of water droplets fused together, the oil separated more.

Kripa Varanasi at MIT expressed the way that they were inspired by the work of photovoltaics that they based on their research. “We were inspired by the work in photovoltaics, where dye sensitization was used to improve the efficiency of absorption of solar radiation,” says Varanasi. “The coupling of the dye to the photosensitive particles allows for the generation of charge carriers upon light illumination. This creates an electric potential difference to be established between the surface and the liquid upon illumination, and leads to a change in the wetting properties.”

Further investigations with this research also highlighted that switching the wettability of surfaces have other benefits.  It was discovered that they could be self-cleaning, which is great news for environmentalists. It was soon noticed that when the surface on the water was changed from hydrophilic (water-attracting) to hydrophobic (water-repelling) the surface gets driven off, taking with it any contaminants that could have built up.

Engineering News – April 2017

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