Engineering in the news and around the ‘web

This week, it has fallen upon me to share a few engineering news stories from around the web; I’ve even managed to find some that aren’t about cars! I’ll start with a cheery note for UK manufacturing, before sharing the surprising (and bad) news out of Huntingdon regarding Lola Group. Showing more than a little bias towards my old university, I have news on new investments into a new automotive research facility at the University of Bath. You may be glad to hear that I will then move away from the Automotive/Motorsport world with a story of how a single bolt racked up a $2 million bill for US taxpayers. Finally, a quick piece on a new virus with shocking potential!

Vauxhall/Opel announce new Astra to be built at Ellesmere Port

At long last, General Motors (the parent company of Vauxhall/Opel) have confirmed that the new Astra will be built at the Ellesmere Port plant in Chesire. This announcement promises a £125 million investment in the plant, secures the jobs of the 2100 staff currently on site, and promises a further 700 as production ramps up to 3 shifts. Furthermore, Vauxhall Chairmen Duncan Aldred commented that the move was assisted in part by the governments industrial strategy. For me, this is great news; not only does it put an end to speculations about the plants future, it is also a huge boost for UK manufacturing and in particular, components supply with Vauxhall commentating that they would like at least 25% of the components to be locally sourced.

Lola Group have filed for bankruptcy

Unless you are au fait with motorsports and/or the world of composites, chances are you have never heard of Lola. Lola have been building successful race cars since 1958, competing, and indeed winning, at every level, from feeder series, to top tier world championships. More recently, they have been applying their composites knowledge, through Lola Composites, to the defence and aerospace industries. Unfortunately, in the last week, the group have announced that they are to file for bankruptcy. The reason quoted is fairly straight forward: more cash is going out than coming in. The groups statement also went on to blame government changes to R&D tax credits as a factor in driving up costs. This story is, quite literally, close to home for me; the company employ 172 people just up the road from the village I grew up in and my father had many dealings with their composites group over the years. Hopefully the group find a solution to secure their staff and to continue supporting their vast fleet of active race cars.

New research centre for Turbochargers highlighted in prize winning ‘Image of Research’

A former class mate has won a prize for his depiction of turbocharger research at the University of Bath. Dr. Richard Burke’s entry showcased his work in the new £800k Turbo Centre, where he and his fellow researchers and faculty members focus on the development of low carbon turbocharged engines. Turbocharging is a key element in ‘downsizing’ automotive powertrains to deliver lower carbon emissions while retaining the performance and driveability of existing engines. The new centre at Bath is focusing on downsizing technologies for both petrol and diesel engines and work is being conducted in collaberation with Ford, Jaguar Land Rover and Cummins Turbo Technologies. This a great example of how academia can work with industry to develop understanding and development of engineering technologies.

USS Georgia confined to port by a single bolt

Let me paint a picture: you go to set off for a long drive, but as you leave your town, you notice your gearbox is making an unholy grinding noise. Do you pull over, lift the bonnet, utter some rude words and ring the AA? Or do you just keep forging on, turn up the radio and hope the problem will solve itself? Unbelievably, the crew of the USS Georgia went for the latter when faced with clunking from their submarines propulsion system. As it later transpired, a single bolt had worked its way loose and into the reduction gearing. In an attempt to diagnose the problem, the crew kept the engine running for two days, which unfortunately only made things worse. The damage sidelined the boat for 3 months, cost the US taxpayers over $2 million, and prevented the crew supporting the NATO action in Libya. Needless to say, the Navy were not best pleased, citing that there were detailed inspection and maintenance procedures in place to prevent exactly this kind of event, that were simply not followed by the crew. The moral of this story: procedures are best when followed…

An engineered virus that can charge your batteries

Firstly, I feel that I should apologise for my awful pun in the introduction piece!

Scientists from the US department of energy have engineered a virus that can create electricity in response to mechanical stresses. Their work uses the piezoelectric properties of the virus to power a small LCD and suggest that in future, the virus could cover our clothes and shoes to power our gadgets! It’s early days yet, but if the viruses are harmless, then I say why not! Anything to save charging my ‘smart’ phone every day…

Peter Bonnington

I am one of the current vice chairs of the Young Members Board at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). I’m my role, I also sit on Council & the Education Advisory Group.

I lead a research based team for Delphi Diesel Systems, developing diesel common rail fuel systems for the heavy duty market. I am studying my Engineering Doctorate in Systems Engineering & Management at the Universities of Bristol & Bath.

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