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Eight transport engineering firms tackling the biggest global problems

Professional Engineering

UK engineering firms are coming up with innovative solutions to some of Earth's biggest problems (Credit: Shutterstock)
UK engineering firms are coming up with innovative solutions to some of Earth's biggest problems (Credit: Shutterstock)

Faster trains. Cleaner air. Fresher food. Engineering firms are tackling some of the world’s biggest problems.

This week, we've been diving into the 2018 edition of the 1,000 Companies to Inspire report from the London Stock Exchange, looking at 19 UK businesses at the forefront of engineering innovation.

Some of the cleanest and greenest companies in energy, environment and process engineering kicked us off on Monday, followed by six of the most innovative UK manufacturing, materials and training firms yesterday. Today, we're finishing the series with eight of the highest-flying companies in the rail, automotive, aerospace and marine sectors.  

Rail: Driving the 'Midlands Engine' with better transport links

Adey Steel Group, Loughborough

The Midlands has the fastest-growing economy outside London – worth £222bn a year. The region used to lag behind the rest of the UK, but over the last few years the Midlands Engine strategy has increased efforts to attract investment and drive growth and job opportunities.

A major part of this has been improving rail infrastructure. And arguably at the forefront of the charge has been Adey Steel Group, led by chairman and former Leicester Tigers Rugby Union player Garry Adey, who was capped twice by England in the 1970s. The manufacturer, which started out in the 1920s as an ironmongers, previously won a £15m contract to support the electrification of the Great Western route from London to Cardiff. Recently, it has been supplying overhead line electrification structures to support the upgrade of the Midlands Mainline section from Kettering to Corby.

According to an Adey spokesperson, the company’s location in Loughborough makes it well placed to supply projects anywhere in the UK and ensures it has a role to play in keeping the Midlands moving forward.

Automotive: Making electric vehicles safer

Brigade Holdings, South Darenth

As demand for electric vehicles (EVs) increases, so will the risk of collisions, not just with other vehicles, but also with pedestrians – by up to 40%. “If we lose combustion engine noise, we also lose the warning alert, making it harder for pedestrians to hear a vehicle approaching,” says Brigade Electronics’ Emily Hardy.

The Kent-based company specialises in vehicle safety systems and has previously developed white noise reversing alarms for commercial vehicles on construction sites. More recently, it has launched the Quiet Vehicle Sounder for EVs, ahead of an EU directive that comes into force next July, which will require all EVs to emit a noise when travelling slowly. Older EVs will need to have a device retrofitted. If transport is to be clean and quiet, says Hardy, then it’s important that such devices make roads safer without causing a noise nuisance.

Automotive: Bringing driverless cars to the UK

RDM Group, Coventry

The UK’s connected and autonomous vehicles industry is likely to be worth £28bn by 2035, taking a 3% share of the global market, according to a government report last year.

Leading the way is RDM Group and its autonomous vehicles division Aurrigo. The Coventry-based firm employs more than 70 people and later this year will deliver the last of its fleet of Pod Zeros to Milton Keynes, which has been hosting the world’s first trial of autonomous and connected cars, UK Autodrive, since the end of 2015.

“The project has positioned us as a leader in ‘first-and-last-mile’ transport solutions,” says Dr Richard Fairchild, director of mobility programmes at Aurrigo. He adds that the aim is to improve mobility and help commuters on the first and last legs of their journeys to and from transport hubs, shops and university campuses.

The company’s involvement in the trial has seen it open offices in Australia, Canada and the US. This expansion has also led to the creation of 15 jobs in the past 12 months, most of them for skilled engineers.

Aerospace: Grinding better jet turbines

NCMT, Thames Ditton

Flexibility and performance are the keys to any successful manufacturing process, but turbine blades, engine parts and other nickel alloy components haven’t always been the easiest to grind.

For the past 15 to 20 years, however, there has been a shift to what’s known as Very Impressive Performance Extreme Removal (Viper) grinding, a process that has also allowed for higher degrees of accuracy and complexity. Patented by Rolls-Royce and developed in partnership with the Japanese manufacturer Makino, Viper grinding has metal removal rates that are five times greater than those of traditional creep-feed grinders. Other benefits include a reduction in thermal damage, set-up times and production costs.

NCMT, which helped produce the machinery and sells it exclusively in the UK and Ireland, won a Queen’s Award in April for the rapid growth the company has achieved in exporting Viper grinders to contract machinists that supply aeroplane engine and turbine manufacturers.

Aerospace: Keeping planes in the sky

PDQ Group, Fordingbridge

The global aerospace industry is soaring, producing revenues of $838bn last year, and passenger numbers are higher than before. Any problems with aircraft need to be dealt with swiftly, otherwise they could prove costly. Poor supply chains or a lack of availability of parts can ground flights, causing delays and passengers to get disgruntled and demand refunds.

Ideally, what any aerospace company wants is a single source of supply with guaranteed stock availability. Fordingbridge-based PDQ Airspares offers a range of consumables management services to the sector, supporting Boeing and Airbus.

Through its Consignment service, for example, the company, which started out in 1990 in a farmland warehouse, can supply clients with all the inventory they need, and customers only purchase it once they have consumed it. Meanwhile, its Surplus2Revenue service is designed to assist aerospace customers in generating revenue from the disposal of surplus assets.

“Having the stock to hand at all times means that customers don’t have to be dealing with and chasing multiple suppliers, which reduces logistical burdens and associated costs,” says Steve Selby, PDQ’s IT and marketing manager.

Marine: Soundproofing for the seas

Autins Group, Rugby

Any boat, whether it’s for commercial or personal use, needs insulating, especially to help drown out the sound and vibrations of inboard engines and other parts. Insulation is also essential to prevent damage caused by condensation, to optimise the working conditions of the vessel and prolong the parts’ lifespans.

Solar Nonwovens manufactures lightweight, acoustic-absorbing material suitable for the maritime industry. Since 2016 the firm has been part of the Autins group, which supplies sound and thermal insulation for Jaguar Land Rover models.

Solar Nonwovens utilises patented technology developed by IKsung in South Korea. The material, known as Neptune, after the god of the sea, is made from microfibre polyester and polypropylene. It can be welded to most substrates sonically, so there’s no need for expensive adhesives. In June, Autins announced that it had secured technical approval for Neptune from key European automotive OEMs.

Aerospace: Powering the future of aviation

Integral Powertrain, Milton Keynes

Like the automotive industry, the aerospace sector is shifting from combustion engines to hybrid and electric ones. This is partly being driven by calls to curb carbon emissions.

As technology and innovation continue to shape the future of transport, there’ll be a need for a more sustainable way of powering aircraft and road vehicles, which will increase “the demand for electric motors that are precisely engineered and can better integrate with battery systems,” says Stuart Jaycocks from Integral Powertrain.

The Milton Keynes-based company has developed numerous electric motor-generators over the past decade or so and recently showcased its latest technology at the Farnborough International Airshow, including a 3MW generator.

According to Jaycocks, the company’s motors can achieve a power-to-weight ratio of 20 to 30kW per kg. Through investment in R&D, the company expects to improve this further, leading to higher performance and greater efficiency.

Automotive: Tracking vehicles with less hassle

Quartix, Newtown

For any haulage or logistics company, fuel efficiency is vital to reduce the costs of running the fleet. As well as monitoring fuel use, tracking can also help to keep tabs on driver behaviour, such as idling, and improve health and safety. An engine that is idle can produce up to twice the emissions of a car in motion – according to researchers at King’s College London, idling contributes to 9,500 deaths in the UK every year.

Monitoring vehicles can be complicated by the fact that some companies have to rely on temporary vehicles when their own are off the road, or when they hire subcontractors who drive their own vehicles.

Realtime vehicle tracking specialist Quartix has launched its Plug & Track solution, which requires no installation and can be moved from one vehicle to another. “This means that fleet managers can ensure there aren’t any gaps in their telematics data and analysis,” says Dan Catterall, Quartix’s fleet sales manager.

Read part one, on energy, environment and process companies, here.

Read part three, on transport engineering firms, here.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
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