Institution news

From Birdcage Walk

Colin Brown, Chief Executive

Design Challenge final, 4 October 2019
Design Challenge final, 4 October 2019

The latest in our ongoing series of updates about activities at the Institution.

Dear Member,

There is a Yorkshire saying that ‘there is snow on the tail of the last horse in the St Leger’ each year.   It reflects the closing of the season and the preparation here in the Northern Hemisphere for Winter.  Now, whilst the St Leger was run on 14 September this year, our own close of the season ‘race’ – the National finals of the Design Challenge – took place on Friday, 4 October.

It was a grand finale to a season of challenges that engage most every university in the UK, and for Formula Student and the Railway and UAS Challenges many universities outside the UK too.  An added treat this year was the chance to hear from Ben Hodgkinson, Head of Product Engineering at Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrains, a Design Challenge sponsor.  Whilst it looks as though Mercedes will be looking to achieve a record breaking win in Formula 1 using Ben’s engines again soon, his enthusiasm for what the teams in our own competition had achieved on the limited budget imposed was clear to see.

The winner of the first year competition, Plymouth University, were a case in point.  The challenge, to build a device to climb a 15 mm diameter copper pipe around 2 metres high and then reverse below the starting point, is a repeat of something that has been the task in two of the past eleven years.  However, never have we seen the level of performance achieved by the West Country team.  The actual competition was won by them in 1.1 seconds, but rather like an athlete with one final jump or throw having already secured the gold medal, they went under 1 second in a post-event demonstration run.

The second year trophy however was carried off by Brunel University. Given a larger budget of £100 (compared to the first year £25) they had to achieve precision as well as speed. Their device needed to cycle up and down the copper pipe and stop at exactly mid-height each time. It required some position sensing and a rather more delicate drive mechanism that would accelerate and decelerate the machine to millimetre accuracy. As became clear from the technical presentations, much of the technical and programming skill necessary came from learning ‘on-the-job’ during the project.  A great example of how our Institution is helping with personal professional development.

The event took place in our lecture theatre under the watchful gaze of paintings of our first two Presidents, George and Robert Stephenson.  It was reminder of the 190 years since their own Design Challenge, the Rainhill Trials of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.  Just like the Rocket, our own winners showed the ability to meet and beat the performance specification with a reliable design.  However, unlike the Rocket we probably won’t be seeing these designs on display in the Science Museum in 190 years time - instead we look forward to seeing other achievements of all our engineers present on Friday as they set out on their careers ‘improving the world through engineering’.

Colin Brown

Chief Executive

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