2012 as seen by Developing Engineers…

Well it’s been a busy year for us here at Developing Engineers, with over 70 blog posts published and recording over 16,000 unique visitors (up 170% on 2011!) and around 70,000 articles read (up 455% on 2011!!!)  So, I thought it was fitting that we had a bit of an end of year review of just what our developing engineers covered… Continue reading

Successful Test of the Bloodhound Hybrid Rocket

Wednesday 3rd October 2012 will go down in the Bloodhound Project’s history as a momentous day – the day the hybrid rocket that will power the car to 1000mph was tested – and it didn’t blow up!

The Bloodhound Project Truck at Goodwood Festival of Speed 2012

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Back to (virtual) school

Back in February, Peter wrote about online education resources for developing engineers.  Numbers of these university-grade courses seem to be increasing, along with their popularity, and two of the major providers, edX and Coursera, are offering more and more varied courses this term.

The courses cover subjects ranging from Sustainability, Programming Languages and Materials Science, to appreciation of sci-fi literature and world music.  I’ll leave it to our community of engineers to decide which ones best support their Initial or Continuous Professional Development goals.

Completion of the courses results in the award of a certificate of “participation” or “completion” and, depending on the course and the providing institution, more or less detail on grades received, merits and other feedback.  The lecturer of the Sustainability course from the University of Illinois even says that the students submitting the best personal projects could be invited to contribute to the field of study.

One common feature of this new format is the option to collaborate via forums and wikis dedicated to each course.  This should allow for a much more interactive and sociable environment than traditional, stand-alone online courses.  Give or a take a few hours for time differences across the globe, it’s not uncommon to see students posting frantic requests for help in the hours leading up to deadlines.

It will be interesting to see how employers and educators react to these new types of courses.  Their novelty, combined with the fact that they vary in duration, complexity and grading systems means that anyone trying to use them as evidence of knowledge and skills may find themselves explaining time and time again what exactly they have achieved through online learning.  On the other hand, if these types of course become more established, and especially if the awards come to represent an agreed standard of achievement, then employers will have to familiarise themselves with this format.

If any readers want to share their experiences of online learning, we can start to see how valuable they are, and how much recognition they are getting.

Hope everyone enjoys going back to school!

The Classic Rolls-Royce Ghost

 

Rolls-Royce Ghost

There are a handful of cars in the British motoring industry that sits as proudly as the Rolls-Royce Ghost. Steeped in heritage, this luxury saloon from Rolls-Royce Motor Cars was inspired by the very original Silver Ghost manufactured in 1906. Designed by Andreas Thurner and Helmut Riedl, the Ghost has a slightly more affordable price tag than many other cars by Rolls-Royce. Initially named “RR04″ during the design phase, its built in the Goodwood plant and comes in two forms: the original Ghost and the 17 cm longer Ghost Extended Wheelbase.

The idea behind the automobile was officially unveiled at the March 2009 Geneva Motor Show, with a “200EX” title. This car was manufactured in steel, the chassis employed a four corner air suspension system, and a central shaft used for activating gear was in chain-like style aluminium, for both the front and the back. The “200EX” was expected to provide a dynamic experience and it delivered in more ways than one.

The classy and understated dashboard

The moment you step into the car and rev up the 6.6 litre V-12 engine you sense the emphasis that has been placed on noise-reduction technology. It has a capacity for producing a generous amount of acceleration, going from 0 to 62 mph in about 5 seconds; the highest that it can run is 155 mph. The Ghost comes with a luxury set of cameras equipped with a surround-view scheme, there’s night vision, lane-departure alarms, and high-beam headlights, ensuring that the car stays true to the brand label of Rolls-Royce.

Full-grain leather seats, chrome-finished touches, veneer wood lines, a cashmere infused roof, and Blenheim carpets give the interior a luxurious and practical feel while simplicity is projected from all of its many basic gadgets. It also possesses an impressive range of airsprings, electronic dampers, and Active Roll Stabilisation, built to take many readings for you from sensors all round the car and manage the suspension for efficient and comfortable driving.

What are we really willing to sacrifice for clean energy?

This week has seen new life breathed into the long running project to investigate the feasibility of a tidal barrage in the Severn Estuary – a £30bn scheme that could theoretically produce 5% of the UK’s electricity needs, slashing our dependence on fossil fuels and significantly reducing our carbon emissions in one stroke.  Sounds like a great plan right?  Lots and lots of clean renewable energy on our doorstep; what are we waiting for? Continue reading

An alternative solution to OLEDs

LEDs in action in Xmas decorations, Tokyo, Japan

Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) emerged about 20 years ago and expectations have been high ever since that manufacturing of large-area emissive devices with low-cost roll-to-roll coating methods, similar to how newspapers are produced, would follow suit. Small organic light-emitting diode displays have been readily made use of commercially in smartphones, but a solution devising the existence of a continuous ambient fabrication has still not been discovered because organic light-emitting diodes are dependent on the use of one or many time- and energy-consuming process steps under vacuum.

Researchers at the Umeå University and Technical University of Denmark decided to come up with an answer to this long held out problematic situation by devising an alternative solution to the large-scale-application-expensive organic light-emitting diodes: the fabrication of a different emissive device, a light-emitting electrochemical cell (LEC), putting to use a slot-die roll-coater apparatus. The fabricated flexible sheets have been found to exhibit bidirectional and uniform light emission.

The solution makes it possible to fabricate large-area LEC sheets under uninterrupted ambient conditions using a purpose-built roll-coater apparatus. The team put to use air-stable materials in a roll-coater apparatus, depositing a light-emitting layer and a PEDOT-PSS anode on top of a flexible cathode-coated substrate mounted on a roll with the aid of a slot-die head. Even though the layers have been found to be highly uneven, the roll-coated LEC devices still exhibited uniform and strong light emission at low applied voltage due to the self-doping operation of the LEC. This has been reported to be ideal for roll-to-roll processes because the quality of the coating can be varied according to demands, thus effectively lowering costs. The layer thickness for the active layer and anode was about 1-μm.

The research has demonstrated that manufacturing of emissive LEC sheets, from the initial preparation of inks, to the subsequent coating of the constituent layers, to final encapsulation, could be carried out under ambient air using a slot-die coating technique which is compatible with high-speed and low-cost roll-to-roll fabrication. The fabricated devices are robust and fault-tolerant due to the utilization of air-stable materials and a 1-μm thick emissive layer.

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Substrate: a solid substance onto which a layer of another substance is applied, and to which that second substance sticks fast to.

Slot-die coating: a basic method of applying a liquid material to a substrate.

PEDOT-PSS: a polymer mixture of two ionomers.

If you’ve been enjoying the cycling, you may like this

My view from Box Hill cheering on Team GB in the Women’s Road Race

If, like many, you’ve been enjoying the Olympic cycling action, you may be interested in a recent paper from the IMechE. The paper, entitled Sports Engineering: An Unfair Advantage? talks about the role of engineers in supporting elite sports and talks about some of the engineering involved in Team GB’s cycling success, amongst other sports. It’s definitely worth a read as there’s some interesting topics being discussed.

Go on Team GB!

Formula Student 2012 – Experiences from the other side

The team from Monash University (Australia) put in some quick laps with their elaborate aero package

I’ve just got back from a busy, but thoroughly enjoyable weekend volunteering for the IMechE at Formula Student 2012 (#FS2012). The weather was pretty variable, and things didn’t necessarily go to plan for all teams involved, but I think I can speak for everyone when I say it was another great competition.

For those of you who are familiar with Formula Student, please bear with me: Formula Student (FS) is an annual competition ran by the IMechE for engineering undergraduates from universities around the world. It is hosted at Silverstone, typically the weekend after the British Grand Prix, and is a culmination of months of design, development, and build of a ‘Formula’ style, single seater race car.

Event Patron Ross Brawn introduces the speaker from Mercedes HPP

If the above sounds a little ‘regurgitated’, then that is because it is; I have been involved with FS in varying capacities since 2005, so I’ve given that same introduction more times than I’d care to mention! I’m a huge supporter of FS as it supplements degree level education with a range of skills from giving technical & business presentations, generating real sponsorship income and ultimately working with a team to take an entire racecar from conceptualisation to race day.

The quality of some of the cars entered surpass many expectations – this is Karlstad University’s 2012 entry

As Ross Brawn, a Patron of the event, reminds the students, FS is actually on the of the most ‘open’ formulas in terms of regulations. In fact, it is one of the few series where traditional ICE powered cars (with a variety of possible fuels) compete in the same class as full electric and even hydrogen powered cars. You can walk the pits (with all 100+ cars…) at FS every year and without fault, you will alwayscome across a number of new and novel concepts. And don’t think these are rough and ready ‘bodge jobs’; some of the cars will absolutely surpass your beliefs of what students can design, build and race.

Students at the IMechE business networking event

This year I was supporting the event in my new role as Representative for Education on the Young Members Board. The Institution ran a series of Business Networking events on the Friday which were are a great opportunity for students to listen to a number of speakers (including FS veterans) from different industries about their experiences post graduation and opportunities for graduates within their organisations. Myself and a team from the Institute were there to engage with the students on membership, careers and volunteering and answer any questions they may have.

Team Bath Racing putting in good laptimes before a brake light fail ended in a DNF

The talk of the event were the elaborate aero packages fitted to some cars, and the shear pace of some of the electric cars. In fact, the top 3 positions in the acceleration competition were locked out by electric powered cars. The sprint competition (flying laps) ended with 5 out of the top 10 featuring wings, no doubt giving next years teams a lot to think about. Glory in the static rounds where split amongst many of the favourites meaning all was left to play for in the endurance competition on Sunday. There was heartbreak for many top teams, unfortunately including @TeamBathRacing (my old team who suffered a brake light failure and subsequent disqualification) and @UHRacing (Herts’ engine let go with only 2 laps remaining), and in the end, the overall glory went to Chalmers University (Sweden), with the electric powered TU Delft car finishing a close second and Monash (Australia) in third.

I really enjoyed being on the ‘other side’ of the competition. Friday may have been busy, but it was great to engage with so many affiliate members (and indeed the presenters). It says a lot about the lure of the competition that I could barely walk 10 metres without running into old team mates and FS friends who were there judging or merely spectating. As a result of the weekend, an IMechE Formula Student Alumni group has been set up on LinkedIn and for pictures, there is a Flickr group. And of course, there is also the @FormulaStudent Twitter account.

Good luck to all those competing next weekend at Formula Student Austria!

Some facts about cycling – a poor front for a shameless charity plug!

Cycling.  Is it new?  No.  Is it a niche activity?  No.  Do hundreds of millions of people do it every year?  Yes.

Why are writing about it then?  Well, essentially because we’re doing a lot of it at the moment for some good charities and wanted to tell you about it – but more on that later.  So, as some preamble to this shameless plug, we just wanted to make the case for why cycling is such a good thing for us all to do! Continue reading

Planned Obsolescence: Cure or Disease?

So what IS planned obsolescence? It is basically designers and manufacturers planning and designing a product to have a fixed service life, after which a new product must be bought. Instead of making a product that will as long as technically possible, a company would be making a product that is the most economically beneficial in the long run.

Is planned obsolescence a get-out-of-jail-free card for the economy?

The first major case of planned obsolescence was in the early 20th century with the light bulb industry. A group of the largest light bulb manufacturers was created with the sole purpose of regulating the expected lifetime of light bulbs. Before this light bulbs used to last more than 2500 hours and it was one of the main advertising highlights, but the lifetime was reduced to 1000 hours by this cartel. And that what they named themselves: The Phoebus Cartel. This reduction in average bulb lifetime resulted in people buying bulbs more often, and more hence money in the cartel’s pockets. They even fined member companies if samples from their production lines lasted too long!

Whilst this can be seen as a disease, it was also proposed as a cure, a cure for the Great Depression in the USA in the 1930s. Bernard London proposed the idea to kick start the economy, although it was never implemented.

More recently, Apple came under fire in the USA for the limited life of the iPod. They made it very hard for an iPod user to replace the battery, which meant that after 18 months of use, it was more worth it to buy the latest model rather than replace the battery.

As planned obsolescence might be economically beneficial, it has some environmental drawbacks. As products have shorter life-cycles, there are a larger number of products reaching their end-of-life and being thrown away. There has been a huge increase in disposed waste resulting from this. Obviously at the moment this is not a sustainable way of life, but we live in a consumer society and seem addicted to it. But can it be a cure for the recession that has not gone away completely? Or is it a disease that will cause countless problems for years to come?

For engineers and designers it can cause moral and ethical dilemmas. I, for one, have always been taught to design something to its full potential, and if I do not do that, am I falling below the standard of the engineering profession? Do you think engineering institutions have tackled or are tackling this issue properly?