The James Clayton Prize is awarded to a member of the Institution who has made an exceptional contribution to mechanical engineering and related science, technology and invention – by way of research, invention, experimental work, a paper, engineering design or services to engineering.
“It is a great honour to receive this award” says Stuart Burgess, Professor of Engineering Design at the University of Bristol, “especially considering its past recipients”. The James Clayton Prize is regarded as IMechE’s most prestigious award and is presented to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to mechanical engineering and related science, technology and invention.
Stuart’s distinguished career certainly made him a strong candidate for the award. With seven patents to his name, a holder of multiple awards and having published over 170 papers in design research, he has spent his career working at the cutting edge of mechanical engineering research. But it is was two specific engineering projects which really impressed the Institution’s judges.
Since 2002, Stuart has worked with the European Space Agency on all four of their major earth observation satellites. Stuart was responsible for leading the design team that created a triple-hinged robotic arm used to deploy the solar array on these satellites – and he patented a completely new type of gearbox used on each hinge of the arm. The gearbox, known as a Double Action Wormgear Set can perform three functions of rack-pinion, worm-gear and screw-nut. These three functions allow it to absorb launch loads, carry out deployment and lock the gearbox. The gearbox worked smoothly on all four of the ESA’s earth observation satellites.
The professor was also recognised for his invaluable work in Olympic bicycle design. Since 2014, he has led a team of researchers at Bristol University to develop ultra high efficiency chain drive technology. His team’s advances were used by the British Olympic cycling team at the 2016 Rio Olympics and helped contribute to Team GB’s multiple world records and six cycling gold medals.
Stuart’s innovation was the creation of a unique pendulum chain testing concept. The smoothness and accuracy of a chain drive would in the past be tested by machine, but by using Stuart’s pendulum, cycling teams have a much more accurate way of checking the materials used in a drive chain. The team, along with British Cycling, could then test out minute variations – such as using slightly different lubricants or chain geometries - to find the perfect combination. Stuart then used this research to design a new chain which was used on Team GB’s Olympic bikes.
The British cycling team’s successes in recent years have been put down to a philosophy of ‘marginal gains’ – making slight improvements to a wide range of factors to get an edge. Stuart’s chain drive testing innovation is a clear example of this strategy. He is now developing a new chain testing technology at Bristol University for industrial chain drives.
Stuart is conscious of the importance of collaboration between university research and industry to solve society’s wider problems. “I think one of the keys to tackling the big challenges of the day – such as environmental problems – is that of universities working closely with industry” he explains. This is evidenced through his work with cycling manufacturer Renolds – who have spun his Olympic chain off into the mass market. His pendulum chain testing concept is also being used to develop a new method to test industrial conveyor chains.
The James Clayton Prize is ultimately about recognising mechanical engineers who have made exceptional contributions to the sector. With his role in British Cycling’s gold medals and world records, or the ESA’s satellites which are helping to monitor climate change - the biggest issue of the day - Stuart is clearly leading in his field and is a worthy winner of the award.