Engineering News (June 2017)

On a wing and a prayer

A new world record attempt by Fraser Corsan to beat his own record of flying at the fastest speed flown in a wingsuit has been successful.  He smashed the record with a 15mph faster time, reaching 249 mph (his previous record was 234 mph) – although this world record achievement is yet to receive the seal of approval by the Guinness Book of Records. Corsan has now been dubbed the fastest man in the world, without using technology or any form of machinery.

Corsan’s achievements have also seen him break two near FAI Continental and FAI British Altitude records in flying with a wingsuit, and is now the officially the only Brit and European to have departed from a plane at an altitude of 10,823 meters.  Not only has he broken records for altitude, he’s also secured the record of falling from the furthest distance at 9,741 meters.

His next record attempt will be the equivalent of jumping from a hot air balloon at a height of 42,000 feet (12,000 feet above Mount Everest) in temperatures of minus 137 degrees Centigrade – Corsan will be attempting the record for not only the highest travelled speed in a wingsuit,  but also intends to go for the longest time and farthest distance flown.

Corsan completed his training at the Salisbury Plain Training Base in the United Kingdom and is ready for his next challenge. He is expecting to reach 250mph and is aiming for a flight time of 10 minutes minimum. He’s also expecting to extend his current distance record by an extra mile. Tail winds are crucial throughout the record attempt, and he will need to travel at a speed in excess of 60 knots in order to make it possible.

Corsan’s suit has been special made for him. “There’s a high density foam insert inside this wing and what that means is when I’m flying the actual wing is super smooth, which gives me very clean airflow and which enables increased lift, which is pretty important.”

Shellshock for beginners

The impact from storms, tides, rocky shorelines and sharp-toothed predators take their toll on shells of marine creatures.  However, ‘the Conch’ seems to be a tough little cookie, surviving forces that appear to leave it almost untouchable. Researchers are now investigating the materials within the Conch’s shell to find out whether its superior strength could be replicated and engineered with new materials, with the notion to potentially manufacture superior protective headgear and body armour.

It has been found that the shell belonging to the Conch has an unusual unique architecture, with its own resistance to fractures. The Conch has it’s own three tiered structure that makes it stand out from other sea dwelling creatures. This triple structure makes it more difficult for cracks to spread and enlarge. With it’s ‘zig-zag matrix’, any cracks that appear are forced along a path akin to a maze.  The structures of Conch shells have been found to be 10 times tougher than Nacre (Mother of  Pearl).

The project meant that the research team at MIT, led by Grace Gu, Mahdi Takaffoli,  Markus Buehler, had to both simulate the behaviour of the material, and analyse the structure and performance under realistic conditions and scenarios. Gu explained, “In the past, a lot of testing was static testing, but a lot of applications for military uses or sports involve highly dynamic loading which requires a detailed examination of how an impacts effects spread out over time.”

With the use of 3D printing technology, laboratories have developed a duplicate of the conch shell structure. Buehler said of the shell, “You couldn’t replicate it that well, but now the lab has developed 3D printing technology it has allowed us to duplicate the structure and be able to test it.”

The importance of each of three levels of structure was tested by the team whilst making variations of the materials with the changed levels of grading. By introducing higher levels of grading, the team could incorporate smaller length-scale features into the mixture, as in the materials of the actual conch shell. Investigations proved that the geometry incorporating the criss-crossed features proved 85% stronger, with only 70% of the material.

Tests were undertaken in a drop tower that enabled the researchers to observe how the cracks appeared and whether these spread or didn’t. The team were excited by the results and felt they had made encouraging discoveries. By printing 3D samples of the composite materials with precise structures and similar geometries, the researchers were happy with the results and are continuing their work with slight variations and modifications.

Protective body and headwear both require to be tough, resilient and strong. The material needs to be damage resistant, and the material needs to be tough enough to dissipate energy on impact, just like rubber. Helmets have been traditionally made with a metal shell for strength, with a flexible soft liner for comfort and energy dissipation.  The new material that emulates the Conch shell would be able to provide both these qualities in one process.  The new material has the stiffness required and does not have the brittleness found with previous materials – the new material can offer the strength and flexibility that is required in protective body and head wear.

Because of the versatility of the material and the use of 3D printing, the opportunity to produce personalised helmets and protective body wear is now a realistic proposition. Tailored made protective clothing can be produced to individual shapes and sizes – a simple body scan of your skull for example will give the computer all the information it requires to produce a made-to-measure helmet.

With all this in consideration, research continues, and your future safety wear could all stem from the natural design derived from diverse survival and resilient shells of sea living creatures.  The team at MIT have published their findings in the journal Advanced Materials.

Gone fishing

A foot long robotic fish could be used in the future to test the pH balance and quality of our sea water using special chemical sensors. Researchers from the Universidad Politenica de Madrid and University of Florence are currently in the process of developing their prototypes, putting them to the test.

The development is also being overseen by researchers from the Centre of Automation Robotics.  The idea is to create a robotic fish that mimics the same movements as a fish swimming, while at the same time, minimising disturbance and stress to fish in their own environment. These Robofish would also be used to control the living environment, for monitoring water quality and conditions in fish farms.

With the rise in human consumption of fish, crustaceans and shellfish, the Robofish can be used to monitor aquaculture systems, allowing reserachers to minimise and avoid physiological stresses to fish livestock, check the quality of water, and ensure that the nutritional values are adequately met for fish stocks. Monitoring and controlling their living conditions ensures that the fish that we eat, remain safe to consume.

Water qualities have deteriorated in recent years, and researches from Bio-inspired Systems Lab at CAT UPM-CSIC, jointly with Universidad Politecnica de Madrid and the Spanish National Research Council have proactively tackled this ongoing issue with their investigations, using their invaluable research with a real-time onsite monitoring system to provide accurate readings on water quality.

The robotic fish developed is described as ‘biomimetic’, meaning that it mimics both the movement and appearance of a sea dwelling fish.  It will provide current water data, all the while continuously modifying the way it moves according to weather and water conditions, whilst detecting and highlight any concerns in the balance and conditions of the water. Water acidity along could affect various indications in both the water quality and aquatic health of the livestock.  Therefore, researchers have developed specially designed electrochemical pH sensors placed on Polyaniline film that has been electrochemically deposited onto a graphic screen-printed electrode surface.  This will enable the Robofish to change its swimming pattern in relation to the information provided by the sensor.

Measuring approximately 30cm from mouth to tail, the body of the fish will be made of polycarbonate merely 1mm thick.  Additionally, there will be an additional structure of ribs made to provide support to its latex-based skin. The prototype model will implement the use of shape memory alloy actuators that will bend in a continuous flexible structure – much like the back bone of fish in nature.

Claudio Rossi, one of the main developers of this bio-inspired fish said, “Thanks to this system that provides early information on environmental change, we can control the parameters of water quality and improve management decisions of fish farms, and consequently, the wellness of these animals.”

Station to station

London Bridge Station has received a top prize at the ICE London Awards Ceremony following the transformation of the station. The re-development of the station included the construction of new platforms and concourse, meaning more space for passengers and a higher frequency of trains. The completion date for the redevelopment is 2018, and the project aims to increase the capacity of the station by up to 65%, with an additional 15 extra-long platforms that will be able to accommodate up to 18 trains every hour.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan congratulated all entries that were shortlisted for the awards that took place on Thursday 25th May. The Greatest Contribution to London Award was received by Costain Engineering firm who are leading the redevelopment schedule on behalf of Network Rail, which included the new concourse the size of Wembley Stadium. The project will benefit Londoners using public transport from London Bridge Station, and ensure that the transport network can cope with the rising population within London.

Mayor Khan said “Civil engineers are at the heart of London’s success, every day we rely on their expertise to power our homes, manage our waste and get us around the capital. Without them, London would not be the thriving global city it is today.”

The London Bridge project has secured the station as being the fourth busiest station within the UK, improving connections for the 56 million passengers that use it during the year. The redesign has been part of Network Rails £7bn Thameslink Project funded by the government and will increase commuter routes running through St Pancras and the north and south of the capital.

The project has ticked all the boxes that were needed to benefit Londoners, the environment, whilst also using good working practices. Although there have been many disruptions which have been unavoidable the project will improve commuter’s daily lives. The project acts as a beacon of what civil engineering design can do and has done for London and its commuters. It has also provided behind the scenes opportunities for over 200 unemployed residents  during the major redevelopment, and with the introduction of new technologies and methods, the project aims  to reduce carbon emissions by up to 123%.

The construction has used steel V-shaped trusses, allowing more room for the ongoing number of passengers that will use the station. The station has been designed to be a light and airy affair, and a more attractive place to visit and travel to and from than its previous incarnation which was opened in 1978.

The award ceremony attracted over 200 guests from the engineering sector, and took place at the beautiful Great Hall of One Great George Street, what is known as the home of Civil Engineering in Westminster, London.


Engineering News – May 2017

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