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Coronavirus round-up and E-Fan X grounded: 10 top stories of the week

Professional Engineering

The hybrid-electric E-Fan X was scheduled to fly for the first time next year (Credit: Airbus)
The hybrid-electric E-Fan X was scheduled to fly for the first time next year (Credit: Airbus)

Ventilator challenge ‘has huge lessons for innovation’

Professional Engineering

Teams around the country are racing to build ventilators to help keep thousands of patients alive. While companies are still in the thick of it and the coronavirus continues to infect many people, some have started thinking about how the lessons from such fast-paced collaborative work can have a long-lasting positive impact on UK engineering.

“There are huge lessons to be learned here,” said Sam Turner from the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. “Even putting things like contracts in place in a day or two turnaround, legal teams, the ability to very quickly design, iterate, quality-check, verify, build prototypes, scale those to volume production, source supply chain components internationally – it’s a phenomenal learning curve, and there are lots of things we can learn there about focused, self-organising teams, appropriate delegation of authority, really clear mission focus and communications.”

Car production falls 37.6%

Professional Engineering

UK car production fell 37.6% in March, which ended with the country in lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost 50,000 fewer cars left factory gates compared to the same month last year, according to new figures released by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

Manufacturers call for more support

The Engineer

Small and medium-sized manufacturers need more financial support from the government at greater speed, according to a new Manufacturing Barometer from South West Manufacturing Advisory Service and the Manufacturing Growth Programme. The survey of over 600 firms found almost 90% predict a severe decline in production volumes.

Tidal turbine installed amid Covid-19 crisis

Professional Engineering

A ‘mammoth’ new tidal turbine has been developed and deployed in just 18 months, proving a promising route for zero-carbon energy in China. The 500kW turbine was developed by Scottish firm Simec Atlantis Energy working with ITPEnergised, the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation and China Three Gorges. The new turbine was installed in the Zhoushan archipelago in China in the last week.

Electric flight project cancelled

The Register

Airbus and Rolls-Royce have ended the E-Fan X project, with planned flights of the hybrid-electric airliner now not going ahead. The project could have provided vital data on issues such as thrust management and electric systems at altitude. Airbus chief technology officer Grazia Vittadini said E-Fan X had nonetheless “shattered pre-conceived notions of what is possible in future flight”.

Airbus furloughs thousands of staff

BBC

With the coronavirus continuing to have a severe negative effect on productivity, Airbus also announced the furloughing of 3,200 staff at its north Wales site. Chief executive Guillaume Faury said the company was “bleeding cash at an unprecedented speed”.

VR users ‘touch virtual objects’

Professional Engineering

People in virtual reality (VR) can now touch and feel the objects or surroundings they are looking at thanks to a new device. The ‘Wireality’ system from Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania uses multiple strings attached to the hand and fingers – by locking the strings when the user's hand is near a virtual wall, for instance, the device simulates the sense of touching the wall.

Hydrogen used in steelmaking

The Engineer

Swedish steelmaker Ovako worked with Linde Gas to successfully use hydrogen – instead of liquefied petroleum gas – to heat steel before rolling. The process could help remove carbon emissions from the energy-intensive industry.

Company prints full-size rocket thrust chamber

Aerospace Manufacturing

ADDere has used 3D-printing to print a rocket combustion chamber and nozzle together, creating a full-size rocket thrust chamber assembly. Printing large parts can simplify manufacturing processes and allow greater complexity within single components.

Biological robot uses rat tissue to ‘walk’

Professional Engineering

A new ‘bio-bot’ made of a 3D-printed hydrogel skeleton combined with rat muscle and spinal cord tissue could lead to a new field of interactive biological devices with many potential applications, its creators have said. Known as a ‘spinobot’, the hybrid device was developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.


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