Liliana De Lillo and Mark Gardiner_Credit Alex Wilkinson Media (2)

University of Nottingham research partnership results in groundbreaking new industry tech

Monday, 04 December 2023

A partnership, which paired researchers from the University of Nottingham with a UK tech company, has produced a highly advanced power converter to drive an electric motor that could revolutionise the manufacturing and renewable energy industries.

L-R Mark Gardiner and Azlia Abdul Rahman

For the past five years, researchers from the university have worked closely with digital motor control solutions company, Sprint Electric, to develop and prototype the Generis AC regen drive – set to be the next generation in AC drive technology.

Launched at the Smart Production Solutions (SPS) exhibition in Nuremberg, one of the most highly regarded international trade fairs in the field of smart and digital automation solutions; this leap in innovation has been made possible thanks to two Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) between researchers at the University of Nottingham’s Power, Electronics and Machines Centre (PEMC), and Sprint Electric.

The aim of a KTP is to connect businesses that have an innovation idea with the academic expertise to develop new products or services, expand markets, and improve efficiency and productivity. In Sprint Electric’s case, it fully embraced the collaborative opportunity, establishing a base at the PEMC at Nottingham’s Jubilee Campus.

I was based at these premises for the duration of the second KTP, which meant I was right there in the thick of it and involved at every stage of the research and development lifecycle.
Dr Azlia Abdul Rahman, a PhD graduate recruited to lead the KTP

Dr Rahman continued: "I worked closely with Associate Professor Liliana de Lillo as the main academic supervisor, while Professor Pat Wheeler, Head of the PEMC Research Group, oversaw the project. Liliana was part of a wider team of researchers supporting me in transferring the theoretical knowledge the company needed to develop the technology. Training Sprint Electric’s staff, documenting everything we did, and writing technical reports was just a fraction of my work – to all intents and purposes I ‘joined’ the company for two years to help make this happen.”

Dr Azlia Abdul Rahman

Sprint Electric has been manufacturing variable speed controllers since 1987, traditionally specialising in the control of DC motors. With the help of the University of Nottingham it has removed the need for a DC link in the AC drive, offering several advantages over conventional converters, such as higher efficiency, faster response, and two-way power flow. One of the main applications of matrix converters is in renewable energy systems, such as wind turbines, solar panels, and fuel cells.

Mark Gardiner, Director of Sprint Electric, said: “Our experience with KTPs has been a wholly positive one. Not only has it quickly and effectively embedded understanding of a complex technology in our business but it has also established a relationship with the PEMC group that I am confident will continue to deliver benefits to both parties in years to come.”

While KTPs may initially seem like consultancies, where a company hires an expert to advise and guide them through a project or period of transformation, there is more to them.

KTPs meld the theory from the academic side with specialist knowledge and expertise from within a business. What they have achieved will absolutely transform Sprint Electric as a company, and part of the electronic motor industry as a whole. Not only will it give them a significant competitive advantage, but it could also completely change the landscape for other businesses now and in the future.
Andrea McCluskey, Business Development Officer for KTP at the University of Nottingham

However, it isn’t just Sprint Electric who has benefited from the partnership’s achievements. Apart from the potential seismic impact on industry, the intensive efforts of the PEMC will act as a case study for the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which evaluates and recognises the contribution made by university research. As well as international recognition and prestige, this could lead to increased research funding for the University in the future and pave the way for further technological improvements and societal change.

Andrea continued: “It is a win-win situation for all parties. Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are an invaluable opportunity to establish long lasting professional relationships which have the potential to turn into very valuable strategic relationships between academia and industry. Transferring research into real world applications is the ultimate dream of academics who want to generate real global impact, and this is only possible by working with an industrial partner.

“You also get to see graduates develop, increasing their knowledge and expertise; the company obviously benefits through increased profits; and the Associates benefit through career development and exposure to industry, sowing the seeds for the next generation of business leaders. KTPs also aim to train future business leaders, in that businesses hope the Associates will stay in industry rather than academia.”

Sprint Electric unveiled its new AC regeneration drive at the at the Smart Production Solutions (SPS) exhibition in Nuremberg between 14 – 16 November. Meanwhile the University of Nottingham, through its Knowledge Transfer Partnerships arrangement will continue to support with the commercialisation of the product once it has launched.

Story credits

More information is available from Tim Ash, at the University Of Nottingham, at; or Danielle Hall, Media Relations Manager at the University of Nottingham, at or 0115 846 7156.

Danielle Hall - Media Relations Manager - Faculty of Engineering
Phone: 0115 846 7156

Notes to editors:

About the University of Nottingham

Ranked 32 in Europe and 16th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings: Europe 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.

Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.

The university is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

The university is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.

We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.

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