BQ reports on the University of Sunderland’s important role in helping some of the world’s biggest energy firms solve problems, access new markets and boost their profits.
There are many definitions of advanced manufacturing, but in one flourishing North East institution it revolves around innovation.
It is here that manufacturers are constantly encouraged to innovate in product design, apply innovation to the design of their manufacturing process and to the design process itself, and innovate to improve process performance once the product is being manufactured.
While the Institute for Automotive and Manufacturing Advanced Practice’s (AMAP) title implies its focus is purely on automotives, AMAP actually works across a number of sectors to assist this innovation.
AMAP, based on Sunderland’s Hylton Riverside, is part of the Faculty of Applied Sciences at the University of Sunderland.
To support innovation, the university interacts with its clients in a number of ways depending on their needs.
Interventions range from consultation with subject experts, through placements and internships to collaborative research and development via a number of mechanisms.
Research can seem a daunting task for many companies. But such fears are alleviated by the university by carrying out research on behalf of clients using its own internal expertise.
In some cases it also works with a company’s own employees to carry out the research via its professional doctorate programme.
Of course it may be more appropriate to recruit new talent and embed researchers, potentially using either CASE award or Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP), within the client’s organisation in order to carry out research with that organisation.
Often these embedded researchers join the client company upon completion of the project in order to continue the good work they have been carrying out.
Within the offshore sector AMAP has worked with a number of clients. When Wessington Cryogenics was seeking to move into new markets and needed additional skills to enable it to design technically challenging products, the university played a key supportive role.
Director Brian Bennett-Cowell describes the assistance provided as having transformed the company. He says: “Not only has the design time for a pressure vessel been reduced by 90%, but we are able to design products that we couldn’t have done nine months ago. We now have pressure vessels operating in every continent of the globe and are putting the larger competitors under significant pressure. Wessington are now in a much stronger position design wise.”
On the back of its work with the university, the company has designed the first tank that can be lifted by helicopter.
Other clients such as Wellstream International, while always trying to innovate in product design, also sought to innovate in the way it designed products through the use of digital engineering technologies. A company spokesperson said at the time “Wellstream’s aim is to improve productivity and competitiveness by understanding and adopting the most appropriate engineering software solutions and by increasing skill levels in the use and application of digital tools across the organisation.”
The focus up until AMAP’s intervention had been on drawing and finite element analysis training. However, following a “digital needs analysis”, which looks at the how digital technology is applied within an organisation, the training was expanded across the company.
The improved use of SolidWorks, Cosmos, and Ansys enabled Wellstream’s engineers to innovate within its structural design and allowed Wellstream to explore new analysis and design models.
The result was an improved tendering process that provided existing and potential clients more detailed design information to aid their decision making process.
Both of these projects used a direct consultancy approach with experts from AMAP working closely with clients to ensure a successful outcome.
Of course this is not the only way in which the university interacts with its clients. Each year the Department of Computing, Engineering and Technology, to which AMAP belongs, seeks undergraduate and post graduate projects and placements.
During this time challenging projects are given to students to complete – for the mutual benefit of both the student and the client.
One such project is European Greenblast – which is currently underway with the Shipbuilders and Ship Repairers Association (SSA). It involves an embedded post graduate student investigating secondary uses for recycled glass blasting media.
It is part of a European project involving ship builders across the EU and is part of their commitment to reduce the amount of material going into landfill.
It is anticipated that this will lead to further projects for embedded students at undergraduate and post graduate levels.
Similarly, the Poseidon project was a large collaborative initiative involving a number of partners from across Europe.
Their aim was to detect early signs of degradation within marine engine lubricant including soot, water, sludge and metal using a range of condition monitoring sensors and intelligent software.
The project was successful and BP – which supplied the oil – and AMAP are planning to develop a new project based upon the outcomes of the project using one sensor to detect any and all abnormalities within the oil within a laboratory environment.
This project will involve a senior member of BP staff engaging in PhD study at the university while continuing with their role in their business.
This model of professional and academic development has proven to be very popular with companies who cannot afford to give senior staff significant leave of absence to pursue their academic and professional goals whilst retaining the skills and new knowledge within their business.
In the meantime the university is developing a follow on project to take the Poseidon ideas to the next stage and develop a real-time on-ship condition monitoring system. In addition, automated monitoring of engine conditions and the application of proactive maintenance strategies will be established that will increase engine reliability.
An increased component availability of 5-20% and downtime reduction of 30% can be expected. An almost total elimination of unscheduled interruption of service from lube oil failure can be expected.
The goal is to anticipate and prevent human and environmental risk, through enhanced engine protection (risk management). It is expected that a detection of more than 95% of sudden lubricant related problems in engines will be achieved.
There are many opportunities for software applications within the offshore sector. The University of Sunderland has a long history of providing leading edge software support to companies.
It is currently with SPX, a regional company specialising in bolted joint applications for oil and gas, many of which are subsea to develop maintenance software and asset management systems to monitor, advise operators and locate products worldwide.
The university, through AMAP, supports a flourishing offshore sector using a wide variety of strategies ranging from taught programmes to placements and collaborative R&D.
And, harnessing its considerable skills base, it is playing a major role in maximising the returns of investment in innovation.