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Electrifying progress: how one KTP is contributing to the modernisation of our railway infrastructure

Posted on 14/12/2018

Engineering company AUS is tapping into local academic expertise at the University of Huddersfield to computerise its product design and development.

From its formation 20 years ago, Simon Gibson, founder and managing director of AUS (previously Associated Utility Supplies), has grown the company to be a leading supplier of components and equipment for the electricity supply and rail industries.

Reaching and retaining this position has required a continuous programme of improvement, investment and product development, enabling AUS to adopt new technologies and respond to customers’ changing requirements.

Customers including Network Rail have recently approached AUS to discuss modifications to components the company is supplying for major upgrades to the railway infrastructure, in which hundreds of kilometres of overhead power lines are being renewed and replaced.

A number of current components and assemblies are made to designs dating back as far as the 1960s, using heavy cast iron and non-optimal manufacturing processes. They need bringing up to date to make them lighter, easier to install, more environmentally friendly as well as having an improved whole life cost.

Many small engineering companies draw on external providers for computer aided design (CAD) services, but AUS saw updating design of the components as an opportunity to develop its own CAD capabilities, enabling it to simultaneously optimise the design, the choice of materials and the manufacturing of its products.

Ann Story, an independent business consultant, introduced Mr Gibson to two experts at the University of Huddersfield’s 3M Buckley Innovation Centre (3M BIC), Liz Towns-Andrews, Professor of Innovation and Rob Woollin, Business Development Manager for the National Physical Laboratory, North of England, who is based at the 3M BIC.

 

Academic collaboration to promote innovation in industry

The 3M BIC provides a range of dedicated technical, professional and commercial support services to help businesses to grow, in particular fostering academic collaboration to promote innovation.

In the case of AUS, the conclusion of discussions with 3M BIC was to consider a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP). KTPs aim to help businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base.  Knowledge Transfer Partnerships are funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, and are part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

In this KTP, AUS worked with Dr Simon Barrans, reader in the Turbocharger Research Institute at Huddersfield University, who has acted as academic partner in other KTP projects, in scoping its CAD project.

After securing a KTP grant from Innovate UK, the first milestone was the recruitment of Harvey Kangley – then about to complete a Bachelor of Engineering degree at Huddersfield – as Associate to implement the project. Mr Kangley is employed by the University of Huddersfield and supervised by Dr Barrans.

The KTP got off the ground shortly before Mr Kangley graduated in July 2017. He is working almost full time at the AUS factory in Clayton West, just outside Huddersfield, helping to embed new methodologies for innovative product development. For half a day per week, Mr Kangley attended lectures supporting his dissertation on the use of analysis and optimisation software in SMEs.

“I first signed on to do static analysis; now I’m doing product development. Both are furthering my knowledge and increasing my ability to do my job,” Mr Kangley said. And, he notes, the fees for his university tuition are covered by the KTP agreement.

 

Expanding the scope of a KTP

Just seven months into the KTP, there had been a meaningful impact. “CAD cuts down on the cost of making and testing multiple prototypes,” said Mr Kangley. “Another aspect is the optimisation of products by applying the software to make them as streamlined as possible, using fewer materials and minimising their weight.”

Under the initial KTP plan, the new methodologies were first to be applied to the design and development of a single product. This plan has been significantly changed, allowing for multiple development processes to be optimised, in sync with the development of multiple products.

In addition, the original scope of the KTP, covering railway overhead line components has been expanded to cover AUS’s electricity supply business, which is a supplier of equipment to utility companies and subcontractors maintaining overhead and underground electricity power grids.

As a result of the expansion, and to accelerate product development, Rhys Martindale, studying automotive engineering, has been taken on as a one-year placement student with AUS.

“The KTP is now open to the whole of AUS’s operations,” Mr Kangley said. At present there are about 20 live product development projects, each providing new experience to feed into future projects.

Flexibility is a key strength of the KTP, Mr Kangley says. “While there was an initial project plan with milestones, it can easily be moulded to circumstances and change can be accommodated throughout.”

From Mr Kangley’s perspective there has already been a significant impact. Rather than going from a sketch to technical drawings and then contracting out the computer-aided design and simulation elements, a new, traceable in-house process is in place.

Having the backing of Dr Barrans helps both him as Associate and AUS as a company, Mr Kangley believes. “I think I have been given more responsibility than a new graduate would normally be trusted with. I feel more confident because I can refer back to Simon, and that also lowers the risk for AUS.”

For more information about AUS, visit www.aus.co.uk.

 

About Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

KTPs aim to help businesses improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base.  They are funded by UK Research and Innovation through Innovate UK, and are part of the government’s Industrial Strategy.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships have been helping UK businesses innovate for growth for over 40 years. These special, funded collaborations are available to organisations in any sector and of any size, and provide unique access to the UK’s world-class academic resources.

If you think a funded KTP could help your organization innovate for growth, contact one of our specialist KTP Advisers They are based throughout the UK and can assess your idea, help you apply for the KTP and will remain on hand with advice and support for the duration of the project.

KTP applications enjoy a high rate of success (around 90%), and competitions for funding run throughout the year. Find out more here.

There is further information on how a Knowledge Transfer Partnership could help your organisation, and how to apply for one here.