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Updated: 3 years 10 months ago

Nuclear urges big lifts from government

Mon, 2016-11-07 18:12

Jason Ford, news editor

A quarter of a century ago a series of cranes appeared on the north east Suffolk skyline that would help engineers with the construction of the UK’s last nuclear power station.

The construction site at Sizewell B witnessed a number of deployments in what was dubbed the Year of the Big Lifts, including the station’s four-beam turbine hall crane, and a Gottwald MK1500.

Each of the former’s beams measured 65m and weighed 130 tons. Once coupled, the crane was deployed – with its ability to raise 320 tons -to lift plant and equipment into place in the twin-turbine hall.

It took 71 lorry loads and a week of construction to raise the Gottwald MK1500, a machine whose lifting schedule had been planned nine years in advance.

The most high-profile lift of them all was the topping out of the reactor building, a feat that could be witnessed from miles around, and one which prompted a gung-ho advertising campaign proclaiming that all nuclear power stations would be built the same way from that moment onward.

The UK is now set for its first new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset, but in the interim cranes on nuclear sites – whether generating electricity or being decommissioned – have been doing the job asked of them by their operators.

To this end, a seminar is being held on November 16 at Manchester United Football Club where attendees can gather to discuss best practice.

IMechE’s Nuclear Lifting 2016 brings 13 speakers under one roof to discuss topics that addressing the challenges facing nuclear lifting operations, the regulatory landscape, and strategies that ‘balance maintenance with safety regulations.’

Included among the speakers are Mammoet’s Erik Kroes and Alex Scott who will present case studies on Mammoet’s involvement in raising the Russian submarine Kursk, plus the company’s involvement in the Chernobyl project.

Further contributions sharing best practice will be provided by representatives from EDF, AWE, Sellafiled Ltd, Radioactive Waste Management Ltd, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, and Dounreay Site Restoration.

Still with nuclear and news that the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) wants government to work with industry to ensure that industrial strategy is focused on energy infrastructure in its submission ahead of the Autumn Statement, due on 23 November.

With Hinkley Point C approved, NIA has highlighted the significant industrial, economic and export potential that can come from a focus on nuclear power to replace retiring power stations, reduce emissions and improve energy security.

According to NIA, policy needs to focus on providing the framework for the UK’s industrial base to maximise opportunities that will drive jobs, growth and exports in low carbon energy infrastructure.

To do this, the NIA has called for:

  • The roadmap for delivery on Small Modular Reactors (SMR), following the Phase 1 competition, to be released as soon as possible, so industry can capitalise on increasing international interest and for the UK to benefit from the supply chain and intellectual property developed here
  • Clarity following the decision to leave the European Union, to give investors in key infrastructure developments the confidence that a stable policy framework will be maintained to deliver vital new projects that promote growth
  • Assurance that the Levy Control Framework, or successor mechanism, is set for the period beyond the current 2020-21 funding cap, to accommodate Contracts for Difference agreed for further low carbon energy infrastructure, including new large scale nuclear power stations at Moorside in Cumbria and Wylfa Newydd in Wales
  • Sustained and predictable funding for decommissioning the nuclear legacy, and maintaining progress made in recent years, while also promoting our advanced supply chain and decommissioning expertise in export markets

Dyson to open UK-based Institute of Technology

Mon, 2016-11-07 16:36

Engineering firm Dyson has announced it will launch a new STEM-focused academic centre in an effort to tackle the country’s growing skills shortage.

(Credit: Dyson)

Set to open in autumn 2017, the Dyson Institute of Technology will be based at the company’s campus in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. It will operate in partnership with Warwick University, initially offering four-year engineering degrees to 25 students a year, alongside a full-time role with Dyson. Lectures will take place largely on the campus, taught by professors from the University of Warwick as well as Dyson engineers.

“The Dyson Institute of Technology will not only offer students the chance to study on cutting-edge, degree-level programmes, it will also play a vital role in educating the next generation of much needed engineers,” said universities minister Jo Johnson.

James Dyson was inspired to invest in the institute after a meeting with Johnson, where it was suggested the inventor and engineer take action himself to bolster the number of UK engineers. The £15m Institute is Dyson’s response, and aims to help the UK compete with other nations who are currently leading the charge in engineering.

“We are competing globally with Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore,” said Dyson. “It’s all the major technology nations and we have got to be better than them.”

“It is a problem in America and Europe and has started to become a problem in Japan. It seems that the fast-growing economies or emerging nations really recognise the value of engineering, but when you reach security there is less interest in what makes you successful.”

Potential candidates for the Institute will need at least AAB at A Level or equivalent (340 UCAS points), including an A grade in both Mathematics and at least one other STEM-related subject. The course will involve no tuition fees, and participants will be paid a ‘competitive’ salary over the four years. Students will also be eligible for the staff bonus scheme and discounts.

Additional information on the programme and how to apply can be found here.

BAE Systems confirms first steel cut for Type 26 Global Combat Ships

Fri, 2016-11-04 17:05

The first steel cut for the Royal Navy’s Type 26 Global Combat Ships will take place in Glasgow in summer 2017, subject to final contract negotiations with the Ministry of Defence.

The UK government committed to eight advanced anti-submarine warfare ships in its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) and has to date invested a total of £1.9bn in the programme, which is being led by BAE Systems.

Ian King, chief executive, BAE Systems, said: “Today’s announcement secures a strong foundation for the next two decades of shipbuilding at our facilities in Scotland.  It is a vote of confidence in our employees’ capabilities in the design, construction, integration and commissioning of warships.”

Manufacturing contracts are in place for the procurement of major equipment for the first three ships, supporting progress to the full manufacturing programme in Glasgow.

To date, 27 companies are in the supply chain working with BAE Systems to deliver the Type 26 ships, with manufacturing of the ships’ air weapons handling systems, gas turbines, and electric propulsion motor and drive systems underway across the UK.

BAE Systems is also under contract to manufacture the Maritime Indirect Fire System, including its 5-inch 62 cailbre Mk 45 gun, for the first three Type 26 ships and the MOD has announced a contract with MBDA to deliver the Sea Ceptor self-defence missile system for the fleet.

Commenting on the Type 26 Frigate announcement, Andy Collier, director of NDI, a division of EEF, said: “This is a welcome announcement for the defence sector that will safeguard high skill, high value jobs in a key part of manufacturing.

“As the latest in a line of major projects announced by the government, it is now essential that British companies well beyond the major OEM in the supply chain are given every opportunity to compete as part of the programme.”

Designed to replace Type 23 frigates, the Type 26 Global Combat Ship will it will undertake a number of of roles from high intensity warfare to humanitarian assistance, either operating independently or as part of a task group.

Today’s announcement provides BAE Systems and the UK Government with the confidence to continue to progress export campaigns for the Type 26 Global Combat Ship with other navies around the world with similar requirements, including Canada and Australia.

The Royal Navy’s new Type 26 frigates will build on the legacy of its Type 23 forerunners. Click here to read more.

Magnetic ink helps electronics self-repair

Fri, 2016-11-04 16:36

Engineers from the University of California San Diego have developed a magnetic ink that can be used to 3D print self-repairing batteries and circuits.

(Credit: UC San Diego)

The ink is able to repair itself due to the presence of conductive neodymium microparticles, which are aligned in a particular way by a magnetic field. When torn or cut, the two sides of the printed material are magnetically attracted to each other, recombining to form a complete circuit. Described in the journal Science Advances, the magnetic ink could be used in electrochemical sensors, wearables and various other printed electronics.

The engineers demonstrated the ink’s capabilities by printing a self-healing circuit on the sleeve of a T-shirt, and connecting it to a LED light and a small battery. When the T-shirt and the circuit were cut, the LED light shut down, but after just a few seconds it came back on when the two sides of the material were magnetically drawn back together, and the circuit was restored.

“Our work holds considerable promise for widespread practical applications for long-lasting printed electronic devices,” said Joseph Wang, director of the Centre for Wearable Sensors and chair of the nanoengineering department at UC San Diego.

According to the researchers, existing self-healing materials rely on external stimuli such as heat or pressure. An advantage of the magnetic ink is that no such catalyst is required, and damage can be repaired within about 50 milliseconds (0.05 seconds). As well as the neodymium microparticles, the ink contains carbon black, a material commonly used in batteries and sensors. Devices are printed in the presence of an external magnetic field, which ensures that the particles position themselves to behave as a permanent magnet with two opposite poles.

In the future, the UC San Diego team plans to experiment with inks using a combination of different ingredients that could have a wide range of applications.

Manchester team scoops awards for alcohol-detecting patch

Thu, 2016-11-03 16:59

A multidisciplinary team of students from Manchester University has received international recognition for an alcohol-detecting patch it developed.

The ‘AlcoPatch’ detects alcohol in sweat, turning different colours to indicate varying levels of intoxication. It took the gold medal at the recent iGEM international world championship in synthetic biology in Boston, as well as being awarded the prize for ‘Best Computational Model’. The Manchester team was also shortlisted for the ‘Best Education and Public Engagement’ award.

“In January when we first came up with this idea, we were brainstorming, and as we are surrounded by students, we thought it could be a useful tool,” said Biomedical Sciences student Sathya Darmalinggam. “It could be really useful for people for things like knowing if it’s safe to drive after drinking.”

The team consisted of six biologists, two engineers, a maths student and a linguistics student. Under the supervision of Professors Eriko Takano and Rainer Breitling at the University’s Manchester Institute of Biotechnology (MIB),they spent the summer perfecting their design. At iGEM in Boston they came up against 300 other student teams from around the world. According to Takano, the team’s focus on the project’s impact helped set it apart from the competition.

The Manchester iGEM team

“One of the great achievements of the iGEM team this year was that they talked extensively to the Manchester community to find out how their project could make a real difference, and they brought this information back to the laboratory to decide which experiments to do. They didn’t just care about genes and microbes, but also were thinking hard about the impact of their science on the wider world.”

Professor Breitling, who advised on the computational modelling that helped the students with their experimental designs, commented: “The team was very interdisciplinary this year, with students from all three faculties at the University of Manchester coming together to do some very advanced genetic engineering. Their diverse background allowed the team to apply some really sophisticated technologies to their project, building a unique computational model to predict how to best design their biological system, so that they could optimise the experiments.”

IP protection is key to unlocking commercial potential

Thu, 2016-11-03 16:54

Karl Barnfather, chairman of Withers & Rogers, discusses how the value of IP to the European economy is growing

The contribution made by IP-led industries to the European economy has increased according to a second EU-wide study published by the European Patent Office (EPO) and the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM).

This is unlikely to come as much surprise to innovation-led companies in the UK, many of which have been investing large sums in R&D on a consistent basis for years. But did they realise that protecting their inventions is the key to realising their commercial potential?

The study has revealed that industries described as ‘IPR-intensive’ – those that file a high number of Community Trade Marks, Registered Design Rights and Patents – are responsible for about 42 per cent of the European Union’s total economic activity (GDP), worth €5.7 trillion each year. Compared to the inaugural report, which was published in 2013, these findings reveal a significant increase in the economic benefit attributed to IP, which was previously deemed to be worth €4.7 trillion.

The study also finds that approximately 38 per cent of all employment in the EU (82 million jobs) stems from businesses that have a higher than average use of IP rights.

This study underlines the contribution that IP-led businesses are making to the European economy and it is very positive indeed to see this economic benefit increasing.

The value placed on the contribution made by IP-led businesses to the European economy has increased by €1 trillion since the first EPO/EUIPO study was undertaken three years ago. This is a significant step forward and indicates that businesses increasingly recognise the value of R&D and are willing to invest it.

Among the top 20 ‘IPR-intensive’ industries based on their contribution to European GDP, are engineering, computer science and pharmaceuticals – all areas where we have significant talent in the UK. In order to make the most of this economic potential, however, we must continue to raise awareness of the importance of intellectual property rights and the role it can play in wealth generation.

In the past, some opportunities to commercialise successes may have been lost due to a failure to protect intellectual property. Unlike innovators in the US, some UK-based innovators are slow to consider IP protection and their failure to file patent applications can leave the door open to agile competitors seeking to copy their inventions. The UK government could do more to incentivise IP protection and in so doing, help to optimise any economic benefits. In China, for example, the government has been incentivising homegrown innovation for some time by offering cash rewards to inventors that have patents granted at home or overseas.

In the UK, fiscal incentives are already in place to encourage innovative businesses. The Patent Box regime, which allows UK-based businesses to pay less tax on profits from their patented technologies, is widely regarded as generous in scope. With a timetable for Brexit now in place, any move by the UK government to extend such tax incentives and encourage wider IP awareness would be very well timed and could help to reinforce the UK’s position as a great place to innovate.

Further incentives to encourage greater IP awareness could help to secure the reputation of these industries and enhance the attractiveness of the UK as a place to innovate.

Interestingly, the results of this European study compare very favourably with a US study published in September this year by the US Patent and Trademark Office, which revealed that the contribution made by IPR-intensive industries to the US economy was worth 38 per cent of US GDP. So, here in the UK and Europe, we must be doing something right when it comes to attracting innovation-led businesses and leveraging their IP assets – but there’s always room for improvement.

Karl Barnfather is chairman of intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers

Modified nanodiamonds hold promise for quantum computing

Thu, 2016-11-03 16:22

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a technique for creating NV-doped single-crystal nanodiamonds that could serve as components in quantum computing technologies.

These NV (nitrogen vacancy) doped nanodiamonds, which are four to eight nanometres wide, could also find use in single-photon sensors and nontoxic, fluorescent biomarkers.

Computers currently use binary logic, in which each binary unit (bit) is in one of two states: 1 or 0. Quantum computing, which could significantly increase computing power and speed, makes use of superposition and entanglement, allowing the creation of quantum bits (qubits) which can have a vast number of possible states.

A number of options have been explored for creating quantum-computing systems, including the use of diamonds that have nitrogen-vacancy centres.

According to NC State, diamond has a very specific crystalline structure, consisting of repeated diamond tetrahedrons that contain five carbon atoms each. The NC State research team is said to have developed a new technique for creating diamond tetrahedrons that have two carbon atoms; one vacancy, where an atom is missing; one carbon-13 atom (a stable carbon isotope that has six protons and seven neutrons); and one nitrogen atom. This is called the NV centre. Each NV-doped nanodiamond contains thousands of atoms, but has only one NV centre; the remainder of the tetrahedrons in the nanodiamond are made solely of carbon.

“That little dot, the NV centre, turns the nanodiamond into a qubit,” said Jay Narayan, the John C. Fan Distinguished Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the work. “Each NV centre has two transitions: NV0 and NV-. We can go back and forth between these two states using electric current or laser. These nanodiamonds could serve as the basic building blocks of a quantum computer.”

To create these NV-doped nanodiamonds, the researchers start with a substrate, such as such as sapphire, glass or a plastic polymer. The substrate is then coated with amorphous carbon – elemental carbon that, unlike graphite or diamond, does not have a regular, well-defined crystalline structure. While depositing the film of amorphous carbon, the researchers bombard it with nitrogen ions and carbon-13 ions. The carbon is then hit with a laser pulse that raises the temperature of the carbon to approximately 4,000 Kelvin (or around 3,727 degrees Celsius) and is then rapidly quenched. The operation is completed within a millionth of a second and takes place at one atmosphere – the same pressure as the surrounding air. By using different substrates and changing the duration of the laser pulse, the researchers can control how quickly the carbon cools, which allows them to create the nanodiamond structures.

“Our approach reduces impurities; controls the size of the NV-doped nanodiamond; allows us to place the nanodiamonds with a fair amount of precision; and directly incorporates carbon-13 into the material, which is necessary for creating the entanglement required in quantum computing,” Narayan said in a statement. “All of the nanodiamonds are exactly aligned through the paradigm of domain matching epitaxy, which is a significant advance over existing techniques for creating NV-doped nanodiamonds.”

“The new technique not only offers unprecedented control and uniformity in the NV-doped nanodiamonds, it is also less expensive than existing techniques,” Narayan says. “Hopefully, this will enable significant advances in the field of quantum computing.”

The researchers are currently talking with government and private sector groups about how to move forward. One area of interest is to develop a means of creating self-assembling systems that incorporate entangled NV-doped nanodiamonds for quantum computing.

The paper, “Novel synthesis and properties of pure and NV-doped nanodiamonds and other nanostructures,” is published in the journal Materials Research Letters.

Gordon Murray Design’s iStream technology wins Dewar trophy

Wed, 2016-11-02 22:16

The Dewar Trophy, one of the most prestigious honours in the UK automotive industry, has been awarded to Gordon Murray Design for its development of iStream technology – a new process for the high volume manufacture of lightweight vehicles.

The trophy was presented to the company’s founder, Prof Gordon Murray, for his team’s development and application of the innovative chassis concept, including its use in the Global Vehicle Trust OX all-terrain vehicle – a cheap and durable flat-pack truck designed for the developing world. Prof Murray will be talking about the process later this month at The Engineer’s Collaborate To Innovate conference

The OX flat pack truck features an iStream chassis

An iStream-constructed chassis is at the heart of the OX, featuring steel tubes bonded together by plates. In more expensive vehicles, the plates would be carbon fibre but here they are ‘engineered plywood’, an incredibly strong and cheap material that helps contribute to the OX’s 1,900kg payload capacity.

The iStream process keeps costs as low as possible, too, requiring no steel pressing or expensive robot assembly; only simple jigs. Overall investment in factory and vehicle set-up is about five per cent of a conventional vehicle.

John Wood MBE, Chairman of the Dewar Technical Committee, said: “Gordon Murray Design’s iStream technique presents a completely new way of thinking about vehicle construction and manufacture. In developing the OX all-terrain vehicle, the versatility of the iStream process is clearly demonstrated, resulting in a strong, durable and extremely affordable structure. It’s a genuine innovation that could positively affect the lives of people in some of the world’s poorest areas.”

Receiving the Dewar Trophy, Gordon Murray, founder of Gordon Murray Design, said: “It’s a great honour to receive such a prestigious award on behalf of our company.  I am extremely proud of what our team has achieved in industrialising iStream.  Our mission has been to develop Formula One technology to a point where it is accessible to the everyday motorist and to enable affordable lightweighting and to introduce new levels of automotive durability and safety.”

Meanwhile, Riversimple’s Rasa hydrogen fuel cell vehicle was awarded the Simms medal, a prize established to recognise a genuine contribution to motoring innovation by individuals or small companies.

Riversimple’s production prototype delivers on its promise of efficiency and sustainability, with a range of 300 miles from just 1.5kg of hydrogen. Weighing only 580kg and with a carefully honed aerodynamic body, the vehicle returns the equivalent of 250mpg, zero tailpipe emissions and c.40g/km CO2 well-to-wheel.

The Dewar Trophy and Simms Medal are only awarded in years when the Royal Automobile Club’s Dewar Technical Committee deems there have been contenders of sufficient merit.  Previous winners of the Dewar Trophy, which has a lineage dating back to 1906, include Rolls-Royce in 1907 for its 40.5hp engine; the British Motor Corporation and Alec Issigonis for the original Mini in 1959; McLaren in 2013 for the P1 hybrid supercar, and GKN Hybrid Power for their Gyrodrive flywheel technology.

Prof Gordon Murray will be presenting the iStream process at The Engineer’s Collaborate To Innovate conference, which will be held on November 17th at Coventry’s Manufacturing Technology centre.

Taxes and starting your first engineering job

Wed, 2016-11-02 17:43

Engineers starting their first job have a lot to think about, but they shouldn’t ignore their tax situation. The Student Engineer talked to UK tax professionals Tax Rebate Services to find out more.

Landing your first engineering job is a big deal. For many, this will be the first time being paid a monthly salary, and it’s important to know exactly what you’ll be taxed for.

What are Income Tax and National Insurance Contributions?

Income Tax and National Insurance are two of the main deductions from your monthly wages. This system is called Pay As You Earn (PAYE), and if you’re self-employed, you will have to take care of these contributions yourself via an annual Self Assessment.

On the subject of National Insurance, we can’t speak of NI contributions without mentioning your Personal Allowance, which refers to the amount of money you can earn before getting taxed.

The current personal allowance for the 2016-17 tax year is £11,000, which means you can earn a full £11K without paying a single penny of tax. However, anything you earn over this amount will be taxed at 20 per cent for salaries up to £43,000. Over and above this, the tax rate rises incrementally as you begin to earn more.

National Insurance Contributions are always taken out of your wage by your employer if you’re on a payroll with a registered company. This is only taken for compulsory things such as your state pension, but will depend on your employment and place of work.

(Credit: Public domain/Pixabay)

What work-related expenses can I claim back?

If you’re a self-employed engineer, Tax Rebate Services have highlighted some of the work-related expenses that you may be able to claim back via your self-assessment form. 

It’s well worth noting that you must keep a hold of all receipts, bills and relevant paperwork to be in with a chance of claiming back a tax rebate. HMRC may ask you for proof of both your expenses, and their relevance to your business use.

Tools & Clothing

If you work in certain sectors such as the building, construction or metalwork industries, you may have to wear uniforms or items such as protective clothing and gloves. The good news is you can claim tax relief on the maintenance, cleaning and replacement of these items.

The same applies for the essential tools of your trade, so if you’re required to purchase tools for your employer, then you should be compensated for those costs. If not, start keeping a record in the form of an Excel spreadsheet or Word document to keep a record of what you’d like to claim for.

Example 1

Harry has worked as a site supervisor on a building site for nine years. He is now required to wear a company-branded uniform, protective gloves and a helmet, which he is tasked to keep clean.

Harry can therefore claim a tax rebate for the maintenance costs of his uniform, including replacements if the company decides to rebrand, and an alternative uniform is required.

Mileage & Travel

If you‘re required to travel to building sites, or meet with contractors for an important meeting, then it’s possible to claim back for the mileage costs. According to HMRC, the first 10,000 worth of business miles can be claimed at a rate of 45p per mile. Any travel over 10,000 miles then drops to a reclaim rate of just 25p per mile.

Example 2

Helen is a structural engineer and makes regular trips during working hours to view ongoing projects. Sometimes, she travels from her home to the site, and then continues on to her workplace.
Helen can therefore claim a deduction for the travel expenses from her home to the site and then on to her workplace. However, she cannot claim for ‘normal’ travel between her home and directly to her place of work, as this is considered a part of her everyday commute.

Transporting Bulky Tools & Equipment

You can also claim the cost of using your car to transport bulky tools and equipment from your home to your place of work – just as long as the items are required to complete your contracted duties, and there is no secure area for you to store them at your workplace.

Example 3

Ben is a mechanical engineer whose main tasks are assembling and installing mechanical parts, components, machine tools and hydraulic power systems. He has to carry tools and machinery to and from his workplace every day in order for him complete his tasks.

Ben’s employer does not provide secure storage for him to store his tools and machinery at work, and therefore, Ben is entitled to a deduction for the expenses he incurs to transport his tools and machinery.

The above examples are just some of the work-related expenses you can claim for engineer-specific jobs, but you can see a full list of all the tax relief expenses – including details on how to make a claim on the HMRC website.

Remote sensor would use lasers to ‘sniff out’ life on Mars

Wed, 2016-11-02 16:57

NASA engineers believe that an instrument used by the US military to detect noxious substances in air could also become the “nose” for a Mars rover to detect gases in the atmosphere that will indicate signs of life.

Artist’s rendition showing how a proposed laser-fluorescence instrument could operate on Mars. image: NASA

The device, known as the Bio-indicator Lidar Instrument (BILI), could be used to detect fluorescence from trace compounds in the Martian atmosphere.

Earth observation satellites already use fluorescence Lidar to detect chemicals implicating climate change in our atmosphere, but the technique has never been used in science on other planets. “NASA has never used it before for planetary ground level exploration. If the agency develops it, it will be the first of a kind,” said technologist Branimir Blagojevic of the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is leading a team developing a prototype instrument aimed at proving that this remote technique is feasible for use on Mars.

Previously, Blagojevic worked for Science and Engineering Services, which developed the version of the sensor used by the US military. The planetary science version is envisaged as being placed on a rover’s mast. In operation, it would first scan the local environment looking for dust plumes. Once it had detected one, it would use two ultraviolet lasers to pulse light at the dust, causing certain particles to fluoresce. Analysing this fluorescence reveals whether the dust contains organic materials, and also gives information on the particle size.

BILI would be a survey instrument rather than a detector for detailed analysis, Blagojevic said. It would be capable of detecting in real time small levels of complex molecules from a distance of several hundred metres; with no need for physical contact with the dust, there is no risk of contamination. Moreover, it could carry out surveys in areas not accessible to conventional Rovers.

“This makes our instrument an excellent complementary organic-detection instrument, which we could use in tandem with more sensitive, point sensor-type mass spectrometers that can only measure a small amount of material at once,” Blagojevic said. “BILI’s measurements do not require consumables other than electrical power and can be conducted quickly over a broad area.”

The project is aiming to develop a smaller, more rugged version of the sensor than is currently available; Blagojevic is also hoping to confirm that it can detect very small concentrations of a broad range of organic compounds in ground-level aerosols. It could also be installed on an orbiting spacecraft to detect life-indicating chemicals in the atmosphere s of other planetary bodies, such as the moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

Electric current used to track water in concrete

Wed, 2016-11-02 16:13

Scientists from North Carolina State University and the University of Eastern Finland have developed a new technique for mapping the flow of water in concrete.

(Credit: Julie Williams Dixon)

Water contributes to concrete degradation on its own, and can also carry chemicals such as salt that have an additional corroding effect. Monitoring how water penetrates concrete is, therefore, essential for overseeing the health of the built environment, and the material’s ubiquity makes this a significant task.

“When we think about construction – from bridges and skyscrapers to nuclear plants and dams – they all rely on concrete,” says Mohammad Pour-Ghaz, an assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at North Carolina State University.

The electrical imaging technique developed by Pour-Ghaz and his colleagues involves placing electrodes around the perimeter of a structure. A computer program then runs a small current between two of the electrodes at a time, cycling through a number of possible electrode combinations.

Each time the current runs between two electrodes, a computer monitors and records the electrical potential at all of the electrodes on the structure. Custom software then computes the changes in conductivity and produces a three-dimensional image of the water in the concrete.

“We have developed a technology that allows us to identify and track water movement in concrete using a small current of electricity that is faster, safer and less expensive than existing technologies – and is also more accurate when monitoring large samples, such as structures,” said Pour-Ghaz.

“The technology can not only determine where and whether water is infiltrating concrete, but how fast it is moving, how much water there is, and how existing cracks or damage are influencing the movement of the water.”

Existing methods of mapping water in concrete use X-rays or neutron radiation, but these are limited in scope. The prototype built by the researchers has already captured images from structures too big to be analysed with these older techniques, and the team is now looking to build on this success.

“Our electrical imaging technology is ready to be packaged and commercialised for laboratory use, and we’d also be willing to work with the private sector to scale this up for use as an on-site tool to assess the integrity of structures,” said Pour-Ghaz.

Carnivorous plant inspires coating that fights biofouling on medical implants

Wed, 2016-11-02 15:59

A coating inspired by the Nepenthes pitcher plant has prevented bacteria from attaching to surfaces treated with it, a development that could mitigate against biofouling on implanted medical devices.

In a report published in Biomaterials, a team of scientists at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) at Harvard University has demonstrated that the innovative, ultra-low adhesive coating reduced bacterial adhesion by more than 98 per cent in laboratory tests.

“Device related infections remain a significant problem in medicine, burdening society with millions of dollars in health care costs,” said Elliot Chaikof, MD, PhD, chair of the Roberta and Stephen R. Weiner Department of Surgery and Surgeon-in-Chief at BIDMC and an associate faculty member at the Wyss Institute. “Antibiotics alone will not solve this problem. We need to use new approaches to minimize the risk of infection, and this strategy is a very important step in that direction.”

The self-healing slippery surface coatings – dubbed ‘slippery liquid-infused porous surfaces’ (SLIPS) – were developed by Joanna Aizenberg, PhD, a Wyss Institute core faculty member, Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and the Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at SEAS at Harvard University.

Inspired by the Nepenthes pitcher plant that uses the slippery surface of its leaves to trap insects, Aizenberg engineered surface coatings that repel a variety of substances across a range of temperature, pressure and other environmental conditions. They are said to be stable when exposed to UV light, and are low-cost and simple to manufacture. The current study is the first to demonstrate that SLIPS not only limit the ability of bacteria to adhere to surfaces, but also impede infection in an animal model.

“We are developing SLIPS recipes for a variety of medical applications by working with different medical-grade materials, ensuring the stability of the coating, and carefully pairing the non-fouling properties of the SLIPS materials to specific contaminates, environments and performance requirements,” Aizenberg said in a statement. “Here we have extended our repertoire and applied the SLIPS concept very convincingly to medical-grade lubricants, demonstrating its enormous potential in implanted devices prone to bacterial fouling and infection.”

In a series of trials, the researchers tested three SLIPS lubricants for their anti-adhesive qualities. First, they incubated disks of SLIPS-coated medical material ePTFE – a microporous form of Teflon – in Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus), a bacterium found in the nose and on skin that is one of the most common causes of hospital-acquired infections. After 48 hours, the three variations of SLIPS-treated disks demonstrated 98.3, 99.1 and 99.7 per cent reductions in bacterial adhesion.

To test the material’s stability, the scientists performed the same experiment after soaking the SLIPS-coated samples for up to 21 days in a solution meant to simulate conditions inside a living mammal. After exposing these disks to S. aureus for 48 hours, the researchers found nearly 100 per cent reductions in bacterial adhesion.

Widely used clinically, medical mesh is particularly susceptible to bacterial infection. In another set of experiments to test the material’s biocompatibility, Chaikof and colleagues implanted small squares of SLIPS-treated mesh into murine models, injecting the site with S. aureus 24 hours later. Three days later, when the researchers removed the implanted mesh, they found little to no infection, compared with an infection rate of more than 90 per cent among controls.

Mazak helps drive growth at Gloucestershire subcontractor

Tue, 2016-11-01 22:11

Sustained investment in skills and machinery has helped Stroud based subcontractor Truturn branch out from its local roots and establish a healthy export business.

The milling, turning, fabrication and electrical mechanical assembly specialist began life servicing the local engineering and manufacturing community, but thanks to a relentless focus on training and accreditation, and investment in the latest manufacturing technologies exports to Europe, the Far East and the US now account for almost a third of its business.

According to general manager Bob Wilkins, the firm’s relationship with machine tool supplier Mazak has been central to its transformation in recent years, with its investment in an Integrex j-300 – one of Mazak’s multi-tasking machines – proving a key turning point.

“We knew that if we didn’t invest in new machines, we weren’t going to grow,” said Wilkins, “not least because our customers were looking for us to take cost out of our processes and pass on the savings to them. I would say it was a culture shock for us when we started with it, but it has proved its worth and I would estimate that the Integrex j-300 has taken about 15-20% of our costs out of the products.

The machine has had a positive effect on morale said Wilkins: “I have three guys on there who know the j-300 inside out, they’ve been on the training courses and developed their own skills which is very positive for them. I also have one of our apprentices on there a lot and he loves it. “

The Integrex system was quickly followed by a Quick Turn Nexus 250M CNC turning centre. “That machine has been a revelation for us, particularly in terms of us being able to put development and prototype work on there. We’ve completed a wide variety of jobs on it, from tube through to complex blocks, but the key point is that we no longer have to complete a secondary milling operation, which means we’ve cut set-up times by 30-40%.”

Going forward, Wilkins believes the future for Truturn lies in 5-axis machining and potentially a specialist milling machine. “The focus for us is 5-axis now. We’ll need some support from Mazak to get there, but that is where we want to go.”

This week’s poll: Have your say on the Nissan deal

Tue, 2016-11-01 17:25

Nissan’s announcement last week that it’s to increase investment in its Sunderland plant was welcome, and somewhat surprising, news. Many had expected the carmaker to deliver on earlier warnings that uncertainty around Brexit would lead to a scaling back of its UK manufacturing activities.

The deal has been hailed as a triumph by the government, which claims that its reassurances over continued tariff-free access to the single market were enough to convince Nissan to continue investing in the UK.

However, given the very real risk that the UK is unable to secure tariff-free access, it seems improbable that these reassurances would have been enough for one of the most hard-nosed, profit-driven businesses on the planet.

And whilst business secretary Greg Clark has denied getting the chequebook out, he hasn’t denied promising to do so should the government fail to secure a tariff-free deal with the EU.

It’s likely that more details will emerge in the weeks and months ahead, as the government comes under pressure to make similar reassurances to other manufacturers across the board.

But knowing what we know now, with which of the following do you most strongly agree:

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Spinach plants modified to detect explosives

Tue, 2016-11-01 16:00

Engineers have turned spinach plants into sensors that can detect explosives and then transmit that information to a handheld device.

The development from a team at MIT is said to be one of the first demonstrations of engineering electronic systems into plants, an approach dubbed plant nanobionics.

“The goal of plant nanobionics is to introduce nanoparticles into the plant to give it non-native functions,” said Michael Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and the leader of the research team. Strano is the senior author of a paper describing the nanobionic plants in Nature Materials. The paper’s lead author is Min Hao Wong, an MIT graduate student who has started a company called Plantea to further develop this technology.

The plants were designed to detect nitroaromatics, which are often used in landmines and other explosives. When one of these chemicals is present in the groundwater sampled naturally by the plant, carbon nanotubes embedded in the plant leaves emit a fluorescent signal that can be read with an infrared camera. The camera can be attached to a small computer similar to a smartphone, which then sends an email to the user.

Strano’s lab has previously developed carbon nanotubes that can be used as sensors to detect a wide range of molecules, including hydrogen peroxide, TNT, and sarin. When the target molecule binds to a polymer wrapped around the nanotube, it alters the tube’s fluorescence.

In the new study, the researchers embedded sensors for nitroaromatic compounds into the leaves of spinach plants. Using a technique called vascular infusion, which involves applying a solution of nanoparticles to the underside of the leaf, they placed the sensors into a leaf layer known as the mesophyll, which is where most photosynthesis takes place. They also embedded carbon nanotubes that emit a constant fluorescent signal as a reference.

If there are any explosive molecules in the groundwater, it takes about 10 minutes for the plant to draw them up into the leaves, where they encounter the detector. To read the signal, the researchers shine a laser onto the leaf, prompting the nanotubes in the leaf to emit near-infrared fluorescent light. This can be detected with a small infrared camera connected to a Raspberry Pi. The signal could also be detected with a smartphone by removing the infrared filter that most camera phones have, the researchers said.

“This setup could be replaced by a cell phone and the right kind of camera,” Strano said. “It’s just the infrared filter that would stop you from using your cell phone.”

Using this setup, the researchers can pick up a signal from about one metre away from the plant, and they are now working on increasing that distance.

UK firm wins key role in €100m ITER robotic maintenance system engineering contract

Tue, 2016-11-01 13:00
Cutaway diagram showing casks at three levels of the ITER tokamak complex

System to transport radioactive components for maintenance and inspection around fusion research site will be largest of its type ever constructed

The largest contract for a nuclear fusion-related robotic system has been awarded to a consortium comprising Airbus Safran Launchers, Nuvia, and Cegelec CEM. Worth around €100m over seven years, the contract covers the development, testing and installation of a system for the remote handling of containers containing radioactive equipment from the reactor vessel of the enormous experimental fusion reactor, ITER, currently under construction near Marseilles.

The system is called the Cask And Plug Remote Handling System (CPRHS). It is an essential part of the maintenance system for the reactor, and will be a challenging design because it will have to function in an extremely confined space. The casks mentioned in the system name are similar in size and shape to standard shipping containers; they are designed to contain components from inside the ITER tokamak, where exposure to the high-energy neutron flux produced by nuclear fusion will render everything too radioactive for human contact. Items needing attention will be placed robotically inside the casks, which will then have to be transported to a “hot cell” within the ITER complex where there will be inspected, tested, maintained and if necessary, scrapped.

The system will consist of 15 casks and, when full, the heaviest will weigh close to 100 tonnes. The transport inside the complex will take them via a circuitous route around the outside of the toroidal vacuum vessel and will include changes in level. The CPRHS also includes the remote handling equipment for deployment in the reactor chamber itself.

Airbus Safran Launchers, lead contractor on the project, was chosen for the consortium because of its experience of designing and building automated systems to work in space. “Spaces is an extreme environment in which no human intervention or repair work is conceivable, and we took our space know-how, developed on the Ariane launcher and the fully automated ATV space cargo, and adapted it for the remote handling project of ITER,” explained Christine Francillon, head of Complex Systems and Infrastructure Programmes.

Route taken by casks from reactor hall to maintenance hot cells

Cegelec CEM, part of VINCI Energy, is a specialist in designing and deploying equipment for the nuclear field, and is handling the mechanical engineering aspects of the project. “ITER offers our company a unique opportunity to demonstrate its ability to develop and build bespoke remote-handling equipment for a nuclear application in such a complex context,” said sales director Pascal Champ.

UK company Nuvia is the project management specialist in the consortium. The project is a complex one, it explained, including detailed design, procurement, manufacture, Factory Acceptance Testing, installation, on-site commissioning, integration and testing. Also part of VINCI Energy, the company has been involved in the UK nuclear sector for many years.

Contributing to world-leading science and research projects is central to Nuvia’s strategy,” said chief executive Keith Collett. “It is gratifying that we have been recognised for our proven capabilities as an international project management organisation, supported by our wealth of experience across multiple disciplines. Our mission now is to safely and successfully deliver to our client’s expectations.”

Nuvia will be supported in the project by the UK Atomic Energy Authority. “Partnerships between fusion research laboratories and industry are essential to develop the new technologies necessary for ITER’s success,” said UKAEA head of business development Martin Townsend. “The Cask & Plug system will be a first-of-a-kind material transport system between the fusion reactor and its maintenance facility – there will be technical challenges to overcome, but I am very confident our collective experience will find creative solutions.”

Engineers assemble to discuss tomorrow’s technologies

Mon, 2016-10-31 18:19

Jason Ford, news editor

Earlier in the year we reported on two developments aiming to make robotic and drone-delivered goods a reality for consumers, with both projects taking place in the UK.

The first involved Starship Technologies’ autonomous delivery robots, which will perform so-called ‘last mile’ deliveries of food, groceries, and parcels around Greenwich. The eventual aim – after a period of terrain mapping by the robots themselves –is for 99 per cent autonomous delivery with a human in the loop overseeing 100 robots at a time.

The second project involves Amazon, which received governmental permission to begin testing its delivery drones in the UK.

According to our report, approval for the trial will see the online retail and media company test beyond line-of-sight operations in rural and suburban areas, sensor performance for obstacle identification and avoidance, and flights where one operator oversees multiple autonomous drones. All three elements will be key to demonstrating the viability of Amazon’s Prime Air delivery service, which was first proposed in 2013.

Responding to the Amazon story, Engineer reader Derek Morris said: “I can’t see how this can be an efficient delivery system, and I wonder how long it will be before a malfunction occurs, causing one to come crashing down on someone, or hits a vehicle causing a traffic accident.”

Morris makes a valid point given the novelty of Amazon’s proposal, yet it is technologies like these that will be discussed in some detail at Innovate2016, a two-day event taking place this week at the Manchester Central Convention Complex.

According to the organisers, Day 1 will focus on Manufacturing of the Future and Cities of the Future, with Day 2 looking at Health in the Future and the aforementioned Technologies of the Future, an area in which the UK is said to be making notable investments.

Paul Misener, vice president global innovation policy & communication at Amazon will be on hand to deliver an update on Prime Air’s aim of delivering packages to customers in half-an-hour or less. In the same strand, David Wood, chair, London Futurists & Principal, Delta Wisdom will talk about the fourth industrial revolution and – say the organisers – how entrepreneurs and engineers in the UK can become better at anticipating the impact caused by disruption.

A recap on last year’s Innovate UK can be seen below.

In the West Midlands over 12,000 delegates are set to descend on the NEC, Birmingham for Advanced Engineering 2016. The organisers of the two-day event expect it to address the supply chain needs of aerospace; automotive; motorsport; transport; and civil engineering by bringing together OEMs and tier 1 manufacturers.

Advanced Engineering 2016 is co-located with four other events including Aero, Automotive, Composites, and Performance Metals Engineering with the open conference sessions including IMEchE’s Aviation Aerodynamics 2016.

Delegates will be able to hear about the latest developments across the aerospace industry for increasing efficiency, with updates from Airbus on the BLADE (Breakthrough Laminar Aircraft Demonstrator in Europe) project, an update from Clean Sky Joint Undertaking on plans for Clean Sky 2, and Rolls-Royce’s UltraFan, a new design concept for greater aircraft engine efficiency.

On October 24, 2016 the company announced that it had conducted the first run of the Rolls-Royce Power Gearbox (PGB), thereby marking the start of a series of tests that will see the gearbox reach up to 100,000 horsepower. For Rolls-Royce, the power gearbox is a vital component of the UltraFan design as it enables the engine design to offer efficient power over a wide range of take-off thrusts.

We end this week’s Briefing with a legislative update from Eversheds, who’ve written to remind us that the Modern Slavery Act has now been in force for over one year. Consequently, all commercial organisations are expected to report annually on policies, training, due diligence processes and the effectiveness of measures taken to combat slavery and trafficking in their own organisations, and their supply chains.

Tom Player, employment partner, Eversheds LLP, and Simon Jones, partner, head of automotive sector, have been in touch to provide some ‘dos and don’ts’ for the manufacturing sector.

Do ensure:

You check whether you qualify
The Act requires qualifying businesses to publicly report, in a slavery and trafficking (‘S&T’) statement, the steps they have taken to ensure their operations and supply chains are trafficking and slavery free. The duty applies to organisations with year-ends from 31 March 2016. Businesses covered by the Act are those companies and partnerships supplying goods or services (wherever incorporated or formed) with global turnovers of £36m and above, providing they carry on business in the UK. Therefore, companies should consider their overall corporate structure and whether to produce a group-wide statement or a statement for each qualifying legal entity.

There is collaboration on policy development and review
Many of the businesses reporting have introduced new or amended policies and codes of conduct, such as anti-slavery, ethics, recruitment or whistleblowing. They have also reviewed their commercial terms to address modern slavery and trafficking risks with their manufacturing supply chain partners.

That you take appropriate due diligence and risk assessment steps
Work towards mapping your supply chain for slavery and trafficking risks. HR may be reluctant to take part in assessing the risk of slavery and trafficking in supply chains or outsourced relationships (as opposed to in the business itself). However, compliance, procurement and others involved in such risk assessments may typically lack HR’s expertise, for example, on recruitment practices, the use of agency labour and different workforce models. This expertise can help identify slavery risks.

Track performance and train staff
Consider how you educate employees and commercial /procurement teams on slavery and trafficking risks and ensure you explain their role in seeking to prevent modern slavery. Monitor your performance over time and remember that the obligation to report under the Act is an annual obligation and therefore identifying KPI’s will be an important measure in driving improvement in this area.

Do not:

Neglect your global responsibility
You need to ensure that you have an oversight over all your supply chains. Governance covering all parts of the business is critical as is an awareness of your broader human rights obligations and new emerging human rights reporting obligations, including pending new legislation in France and the new EU non-financial reporting Directive which will impact publically listed companies from December 2016.

Underestimate the effect the Act will have on your business
Sanctions can be civil and criminal. There are potential operational, financial, investor and reputational risks of failing to Act.

Apply and off- the-shelf compliance approach
The supply chain is complicated and multi-layered. It will be essential to understand your major risks and prioritise your actions. Do not see this as a one-off project. By being organised and methodical much can be achieved in addressing your S&T risks.

Get complacent
The increasing number of S&T statements published by businesses over recent weeks is a measure of the Act’s success. Even where statements are lacking in detail, the mere fact of publication reflects recognition by businesses that corporate accountability matters.

Grainger & Worrall lands Aston-Martin DB11 engine casting deal

Mon, 2016-10-31 17:42

Midlands-based specialist foundry secures contract to cast engine blocks for the legendary British carmaker’s latest supercar

The DB11’s 12-cylinder engine was unveiled at the Geneva motor show

Performance automotive castings specialist Grainger & Worrall has secured a contract as preferred partner for casting the engine blocks for Aston Martin’s DB11 model. The DB11, the latest iteration of Aston Martin’s legendary DB series, will be equipped with a 5.2litre, twin-turbocharged, 48-valve V12 engine developing 600bhp, and is claimed to be the cleanest, most fuel-efficient, most powerful and fastest-accelerating car in Aston Martin’s history, with a claimed 0 to 100km/h performance of 3.9 seconds.

The engine blocks will be cast at GW’s Wolverhampton foundry UK using sand-mould cores made by 3D printing a mixture of specialist sand and thermosetting resin. The casting itself will be done using recyclable aluminium alloy, and the parts will then be shipped to Aston Martin’s engine plant in Cologne, Germany, where they will be further machined and assembled.

According to Grainger & Worrall, the 3D printing of the mould cores was necessary because the highly complex CAD files produced by the design team, which involved a close collaboration between its own designers and those of Aston Martin to ensure that the engine was both light and powerful.

The Aston-Martn DB11 is claimed to be the company’s mst powerful, fuel-efficient as fastest-accelerating model ever

Grainger & Worrall has a long-standing relationship with Aston Martin, along with other performance marques including Audi, Rolls-Royce Motor Vehicles, Porsche, McLaren and Bugatti. It has also produced engine castings for motorsport series including Formula One. The company is notable for its pioneering use of CT scanning as a quality control technique, to ensure both the dimensional compliance of the castings with the original drawings and the integrity of the metal within the casting block.

“GW’s precision sand casting process, developed specifically for the engines manufactured, delivers accurate, high integrity parts with increased design freedom,” commented Edward Grainger, managing director of prototypes at GW. “Utilising the latest real-time x-ray and CT scanning capabilities in parallel ensures exacting and reliable quality development process.”

Device for the blind uses computer vision and machine learning

Mon, 2016-10-31 16:56

A new wearable device called Horus is using a combination of computer vision, machine learning and audio cues to improve the lives of visually impaired people.

(Credit: Eyra)

Developed by a Swiss startup called Eyra, Horus consists of a headband with stereo cameras on one end that can recognise text, faces and objects. Information from the cameras is fed via a 1m cable into a smartphone-sized box containing a battery and a NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor. This provides GPU-accelerated computer vision, deep learning and sensors that process, analyse and describe the images from the cameras.

Feedback and instruction are delivered via bone conduction audio technology that allows the wearer to hear descriptions even in noisy environments. Similar technology has been developed by BAE Systems for the military and adapted for the Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) America’s Cup team.

The user is able to activate different functionalities via intuitively shaped buttons on both the headset and the pocket unit. As well as learning and recognising objects and faces, and reading texts from flat and non-flat surfaces, Horus helps users navigate using audio cues. 3D sounds with different intensity, pitch, and frequency represent the position of obstacles, providing assistance in a similar way to parking sensors on a car.

Horus can also be prompted to give a short audio description of what the cameras are seeing, whether that is a room full of people, a photograph or a landscape.

“Seeing the faces of people who try Horus for the first time drives our passion,” said Saverio Murgia, CEO and co-founder of Eyra. “It shows we’re making a real difference in people’s lives.”

The device, which is estimated to cost around $2,000, has already begun trials with the Italian Union of Blind and Partially Sighted People. Feedback from these tests will be used to refine the technology, with Horus expected to have a wider release at some point next year.

Pedal to the metal: A big week for automotive

Fri, 2016-10-28 17:05

  Andrew Wade, senior reporter

Plenty of food for thought from the automotive sector this week. On Thursday, news came through that Nissan had committed to build the new Qashqai and X-Trail SUV at the company’s Sunderland plant. It’s a move that should secure 7,000 jobs in the North East for the near future, but it inevitably raises questions as to what commitments have been given to the Japanese OEM to retain its loyalty.

The automotive industry has been one of the UK’s big manufacturing success stories over the past decade, but it’s a sector particularly exposed to the post-Brexit uncertainty we now face. Around 80 per cent of the 475,000 vehicles produced annually at the Sunderland plant are exported, and the prospect of tariffs and customs had Nissan and other carmakers spooked. The international nature of most automotive supply chains has only served to complicate matters even further.

Business secretary Greg Clark has been quick to deny that a compensation package was offered to Nissan, but The Times is reporting (£) that Clark wrote a letter to the company’s board in which he promised the UK would “remain competitive”. What exactly this means is unknown at this point, but one must imagine that Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn required more than a gentlemen’s handshake before committing to the multimillion-pound production investment.

However, on Thursday night’s Question Time, Clark indicated that no financial compensation or state aid had been offered: “There’s no cheque book. I don’t have a cheque book,” he said.

“The important thing is that they know this is a country in which they can have confidence they can invest. That was the assurance and the understanding they had and they have invested their money.”

Whatever guarantees have been given, one can safely assume they will apply across the entire UK automotive industry, and that Nissan has not received a sweetheart deal. To be fair to the government, they were between the proverbial rock and hard place here. Allow the uncertainty to continue, and sooner or later an OEM was bound to pull the plug, which could have triggered a domino effect. How much it ends up costing the taxpayer will no doubt depend on how Brexit negotiations unfold. For now though, it seems state-interventionism is a policy this Conservative government is willing to pursue. It would be interesting to know what Mrs Thatcher would make of it all.

Elsewhere, this week also saw the Department for Transport announce plans to encourage the adoption of low-emissions vehicles, including increased access to charging points and hydrogen refuelling stations. The number of new ultra-low emission vehicles registered has risen by 250 per cent in just two years, and transport secretary Chris Grayling has set a goal for all new cars and vans to be zero emission by 2040.

(Credit: evgonetwork)

As many of our readers were quick to point out in the comments for this week’s poll, ‘zero emission’ can be a misleading term. Electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles may not emit on the road, but generating the thing that powers them usually does. In this respect, emissions are simply being moved from one place to another.

For some, this seems to devalue the entire project. Why bother with low-emission vehicles when power stations are still polluting to facilitate them? But power generation is gradually moving away from a reliance on hydrocarbons, and the automotive sector needs to follow suit. Yes, we may be a long way from a truly ‘zero carbon’ fleet on our roads, but investment needs to be made now so that the transport and energy sectors can decarbonise together. The infrastructure for EVs and hydrogen vehicles cannot be expected to appear overnight.

Likewise, the automotive sector must make brave choices in preparing for a post-petrol world. We saw a particularly brave one from Audi this week, when it announced it would be leaving the World Endurance Championship in favour of participating in Formula E. For a team that has dominated endurance racing, winning at Le Mans 13 times since the turn of the millennium, this is a hugely symbolic move.

(Credit: El Monty)

“As our production cars are becoming increasingly electric, our motorsport cars, as Audi’s technological spearheads, have to be even more so,” said Audi chairman Rupert Stadler.

With Citroën, Jaguar and Renault already involved, and Mercedes also weighing up an option to join, the future for Formula E looks bright. The technology being developed there should hopefully filter down to production vehicles, and the increased profile of the nascent racing series should hep push EV adoption.

So a good week all round for the automotive sector, and a positive week for UK industry. Long may it continue.


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