New research will develop safer engineering systems

Engine components 
28 Jul 2010 12:28:00.000
 PA 195/10

Academics are to devise new methods of detecting potentially fatal faults in engineering systems and more cost effective and efficient ways of planning maintenance as part of a new research centre being launched at The University of Nottingham.

The research will offer advances in protecting public safety and could potentially save industry millions of pounds in lost revenue from unplanned maintenance work and a suspension of services.

The new centre in the University’s Department of Civil Engineering has been funded with a grant of more than £700,000 by The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust (The LRET), a charitable trust working to achieve advances in transportation, science, engineering and technology education, training, and research worldwide.
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 The LRET Centre for Risk and Reliability Engineering will also offer distance learning courses which will allow industry professionals from around the world to obtain a postgraduate degree from the University by studying and receiving support and tutorials via the internet, e-mail and other multimedia technology.

Professor John Andrews, Director of The LRET Centre for Risk and Reliability Engineering, said: “The research into fault diagnostic methods is applicable to engineering systems found in all industry sectors. It will have particular benefit where failures present on a system need to be diagnosed and resolved extremely quickly.

“Future transportation systems would obviously benefit from this sort of technology both from a safety and service provision perspective. Once detected, the causes of deteriorating or lost functionality can be transmitted to the maintenance depot where the materials, equipment and personnel needed to rectify the condition can be made available. Some aspects of aero engine performance are already monitored during flight and developing faults flagged up at a monitoring centre. It is possible to extend the range of the aircraft systems to which this capability can be applied and also to extend its utilisation in other transport modes.

“This also has importance to autonomous vehicles. Further into the future if UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) operate in commercial air space it will be vitally important to understand the health of the aircraft systems in order to manage the safety of the vehicle. Unexpected, safety-critical failures could result in aircraft coming down in populated areas.

“The research will use mathematical models based on probability and approaches such as the Bayesian Belief Network. This enables evidence to be introduced to system variables (obtained from observations provided by sensors) and the probabilities of the potential causes updated.

“The research will attempt to devise a general framework applicable to all systems but which could be adjusted to focus on specialist systems for best results. In particular it will look at minimising the number of electronic sensors used to detect faults in a system while ensuring it still remains cost effective and efficient. Each sensor adds cost and weight to the system as well as its own maintenance requirements. As such, sensors must be placed in areas of the system that will offer the most information.

“The second element of the research will focus on the development of optimising maintenance schedules. Using the transport example again, if you are planning the maintenance schedule for a fleet of vehicles you want to ensure you are getting the most value out of the engineering components by replacing them before they fail and cause accidents or disruption to your business. Replacing components too early is a waste of resource. Their life expectancy must be better understood to enable components to be replaced when they deteriorate to a condition just prior to failure. It could also help in more accurately estimating how many extra vehicles you need to have on standby in case one unexpectedly breaks down.”

The new centre will also offer postgraduate programmes in Risk and Reliability Methods in the form of a certificate, diploma or MSc. Suited to professionals working in a broad range of industries, the distance learning nature of the course will allow participants to limit the amount of time away from their job, while offering a number of work-based projects and assignments.

— Ends —

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the Times Higher Education-QS World University Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's “only truly global university”, it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk) in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust (The LRET) is an independent charity that was established in 2004. Its principal purpose is to support advances in transportation, science, engineering and technology education, training and research worldwide for the benefit of all. It also funds work that enhances the safety of life and property at sea, on land and in the air. The LRET focuses on four categories:

• pre-university education: through appropriate organisations (but not individual schools), promotes careers in science, engineering and technology to young people, their parents and teachers.
• university education: provides funding for undergraduate and post-graduate scholarships and awards at selected universities and colleges (does not fund students directly).
• vocational training and professional development: supports professional institutions, educational and training establishments working with people of all ages.
• research: funds existing or new centres of excellence at institutes and universities.

Story credits

More information is available from Professor John Andrews on +44 (0)115 846 8448, john.andrews@nottingham.ac.uk;
  Emma Thorne

Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: emma.thorne@nottingham.ac.uk Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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