Article - Issue 31, Jun 2007

MacRobert Award 2007

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The Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award is the UK’s premier prize for engineering. It is awarded annually for an outstanding innovation, of benefit to the community, which has also achieved commercial success. It seeks to demonstrate the importance of engineering, and the role of engineers and scientists in contributing to national prosperity and international prestige. Described at its launch as “the Nobel Prize for engineering”, the Award was originally founded by the MacRobert Trust and first presented in 1969. Every submission is reviewed by a panel of judges drawn from the Academy’s Fellowship and from all areas of engineering. The Award honours the winning company with a gold medal and the team members with a prize of £50,000. Here, we showcase the four finalists for 2007 starting with this year’s winner, announced by the Academy’s Senior Fellow, HRH The Prince Philip Duke of Edinburgh KG KT, at the Awards Dinner on 5 June.

gPROMS Advanced Process Modelling Technology - Process Systems Enterprise Ltd

The process industries are going through a period of great opportunities and challenges. Unprecedented economic growth in Asia is leading to enhanced demand for their products, combined with increasing customer expectations on product performance. This is occurring against a backdrop of decreasing availability of primary raw materials and global concerns relating to energy consumption, safety and environmental impact.

gPROMS multiscale modelling – from dynamics of entire plants to distribution of properties on individual catalyst particles

gPROMS multiscale modelling – from dynamics of entire plants to distribution of properties on individual catalyst particles

Never before has accurate quantification using detailed mathematical modelling been more important. Process Systems Enterprise’s gPROMS® advanced process modelling software supports innovation in the design and operation of processes and products across the whole range of the process industries – from traditional oil and gas, chemicals and petrochemicals, to new energy technologies, minerals extraction, foods, paper and pharmaceuticals.

Innovative Engineering

Designing new processes requires detailed mathematical models. The degree of detail incorporated in a model determines its ability to maximise product quality, minimise production cost and control environmental impact; all of which have a direct impact on competitive advantage. gPROMS’main innovation is that it allows engineers to build and solve extremely complex models simply by describing the physical and chemical phenomena that are taking place, without concerning themselves with the details of the mathematical solution. This leads to orders-of-magnitude decrease in the required effort and time for modelling as well as important benefits in model correctness and long-term maintainability.

Even the most detailed models are approximations of reality, and need to be validated against ‘real-life’ data from laboratory experiments or pilot and fullscale plants. gPROMS has bridged the gap between modelling and experimental R&D with powerful facilities for formal model validation and unique model-based techniques for design of optimal experiments.

By its nature, technological innovation implies risk arising from uncertainties and gaps in available knowledge. gPROMS provides formal methods for quantifying this risk – a key requirement for designing economical, safe and environmentally benign processes – and targeting R&D expenditure to effect maximum risk reduction.

Model-Based Innovation

gPROMS is the tool of choice for some of the most challenging modelling applications worldwide; from the design of new reactor technology in Korea, to the radically improved operation of pharmaceutical crystallisers in the United States.

Catalyst manufacturers in Germany and catalyst users in Japan rely on gPROMS for the evaluation and effective utilisation of new catalysts. Polymer manufacturers look to gPROMS for enhanced quality product and increase in production. Complex pharmaceutical processes are being improved to minimise impurities and to maximise crystal uniformity. Much of the development of fuel cell technology worldwide relies on gPROMS’ ability to describe both the complex electrochemistry of the solid membrane and the dynamic performance of the entire power plant.

Commercial Success

Spun out of Imperial College London in 1997, Process Systems Enterprise Ltd has developed a worldwide market almost equally divided between the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific.

The current client base includes more than 60 of the world’s leading process industry companies, about 75% of which are Fortune 500 organisations. gPROMS is also being used for teaching and research by more than 200 universities worldwide.

For more information, see www.psenterprise.com


STΦRM (Staffordshire Orthopaedic Reduction Machine) Intelligent Orthopaedics Ltd

Intelligent Orthopaedics Ltd was founded by Professor Peter Ogrodnik, Dr C Ian Moorcroft and Peter Thomas in 2002 and began trading in May 2005. The company’s first product, STΦRM, is a re-usable surgical device employed in the operating theatre to help the surgeon re-align (reduce) fractures throughout the human tibia. STΦRM’s simplicity disguises over 15 years of research and development. It has proved to be highly versatile and is changing fundamental attitudes to fracture management. This is an example of how intelligent engineering design can result in a simple and elegant commercial solution.

SToRM being used to reduce a distal tibial fracture Courtesy of University Hospital of North Staffordshire

SToRM being used to reduce a distal tibial fracture Courtesy of University Hospital of North Staffordshire

The Need

The re-alignment of unstable fractured bones is called ’reduction‘. In the lower leg this is often a very difficult process hampered by fracture configuration, soft tissue and muscle interaction. The reduction is normally performed under general anaesthesia and can be a physically demanding process on both the surgeon and their assistants. Fractures of the lower leg are commonplace, resulting in approximately 25,000 operations per annum in the UK.

Common practice is to reduce the fractures manually. This involves an assistant pulling on the fractured limb throughout the procedure. Alternatively, some hospitals use traction tables to assist with the reduction. However, this controlled action and the initial set up time adds about 45 minutes to operation times. Both methods result in unpredictable operating durations.

Leading orthopaedic trauma surgeons have recognised the need for a device to help reduce the fracture during the operation but until now no other solution had been developed that enabled surgeons to perform this task with ease.

Intelligent Engineering Design

STΦRM is a certified medical device whose sole role is to help the surgeon to reduce a lower leg fracture and to then support the fracture whilst an appropriate fixation is applied. STΦRM is minimally invasive, and is removed per-operatively (during the operation). The very simplicity of the design is universally recognised by the surgical community as being an elegant innovation in the treatment of unstable fractures. The simplicity hides patented, innovative features that have come about through extensive R&D and the application of world-class engineering design.

The use of STΦRM brings with it a number of points which can result in direct and in-direct benefits to the hospital, the surgeon and the patient. These range from shorter operating times (up to 50% less); repeatable operating times (consistently between 60 and 70 minutes); better outcomes (anatomical alignment of the fracture); standardised procedure (benefits all operative situations); and improved fracture treatment (fixation appropriate to the injury). STΦRM gives the surgeon time and space to treat lower leg fractures appropriately, giving the patient an improved prognosis.

Commercial Success

Developed in conjunction with Staffordshire University, Keele University and the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, STΦRM is now sold globally and has received universal recognition from surgeons in the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, South Africa, Japan, Nepal and the USA. Surgeons from these countries have commented on its simplicity of use and its thoughtful and aesthetically pleasing design. Intelligent Orthopaedics Ltd have recently attracted a further investment of £250,000 to develop its product portfolio.

For more information see www.intelligent-orthopaedics.co.uk


SystemFirst Foundation Solution Roger Bullivant Ltd

Next to fire and flood, subsidence is a home-owners worst nightmare. Subsidence problems came to the notice of homeowners in the early 1970s when insurers began to include Subsidence Heave and Landslip into domestic structures insurance policies. After working with the National House Building Council to repair and restore failed floor slabs on domestic homes, Roger Bullivant Ltd began to consider an engineered foundation for residential developments, which could be guaranteed. Today this pre-cast foundation system of piles, caps and beams is specified by every major house builder in the UK. The SystemFirst solution, which utilises a steel beam in place of the pre-cast concrete, is the latest foundation to stem from this development.

A cross-section of SystemFirst showing the complete, fully engineered foundation and finished floor solution © Roger Bullivant Ltd

A cross-section of SystemFirst showing the complete, fully engineered foundation and finished floor solution © Roger Bullivant Ltd

Innovation

As an innovation it might be easy to underestimate the significance of SystemFirst. Foundations are a hidden platform which are not generally appreciated by the public at large; they are assumed to be a necessity which property owners take for granted.

The SystemFirst foundation requires no trench excavation and components are manufactured off-site and installed on-site with a 75% time saving on traditional methods. As the steel system used in this foundation is lighter, it is therefore easier to manoeuvre, cheaper to transport and more environmentally friendly with 90% less concrete used in the build. SystemFirst was awarded BBA Agrément Certification in February 2006

Benefits to the Community

SystemFirst has significantly reduced the weight of product transported to site through replacing the reinforced concrete tee beam with a composite steel construction. This has meant that the number of trips by heavy machinery to and from site is greatly reduced.

The innovative design has led to greater ease of lifting, carrying, manhandling and manoeuvring of components into position. This has helped improve labour safety and reduce the incidence of injury onsite.

With SystemFirst, no trench excavation is required which in turn means that there is a significant reduction in the use of concrete. This reduction dramatically cuts the level of CO2 emissions that each build can create.

Commercial Success

The Roger Bullivant pre-cast foundation system predominantly relates to the provision of foundations in marginal and bad ground and over the years, the system has generated sales in excess of £350m. The ultimate aim however, has always been to develop an engineered system suitable for any structure in all types of ground. The company has utilised all the allied benefits of 30 years experience and the new system will not just seek market share but aims to become the accepted industry norm. Conservative estimates suggest SystemFirst will achieve a minimum 40% share of the UK domestic house building market within the next five years.

For more information see www.roger-bullivant.co.uk


Breakthrough Virtualisation Technology Transitive Corporation

An engineering constraint of the last 50 years of computing has been that software applications need to be re-written, or at least re-compiled, for each different hardware system that needs to run them. Transitive’s engineering innovation has been to eliminate this constraint. Transitive’s virtualisation products – the QuickTransit family – allow software applications to run on different central processing units (CPU) and operating system types, without any changes to the applications’ source code or binaries.

Transitive’s highest profile application is in new Apple Macintosh computers. Since January 2006 Macintoshes have used Intel CPU chips, and each now includes a copy of Transitive’s software, branded ‘Rosetta’ by Apple, allowing every application designed for previous Macintoshes, using PowerPC CPU chips, to run without the user noticing. Apple describes Rosetta as “the most amazing software you’ll never see”, which neatly captures the innovation contained in QuickTransit– and its complete transparency.

Transitive’s technology was conceived at the University of Manchester, continuing a 60 year tradition of computer technology innovation there. The story began in 1995, when Alasdair Rawsthorne formed a small research team within the School of Computer Science, spending the next three years researching technology that would eventually form the foundation of Transitive’s QuickTransit product. Transitive was founded in 2000 to commercialise the promising research. Transitive retains strong links with the University and employs more than 80 engineers there.

Widespread Applications

Transitive is expanding the use of its technology throughout the IT industry and beyond. After deployments by Apple and Silicon Graphics, Transitive focused on the server market, partnering initially with Intel and IBM to develop a series of server-based products. With Intel, Transitive developed two products; one that allows Solaris/SPARC software to run on Linux/X86 servers and another that allows Solaris/SPARC software to run on Linux/Itanium servers. With IBM, Transitive announced plans to allow Linux/X86 software to run on their Linux/Power servers. Many other combinations of processors and operating systems will be developed with various partners over time.

Transitive’s most recent products are focused on helping IT data centres migrate from their old, power hungry, space wasting, high maintenance, low utilisation servers to newer, state-of-the-art servers. The biggest obstacle to migrating to the new servers is getting the required software applications to run on them. It is expensive and time consuming to port the software to the new servers, if it’s possible to do it at all. QuickTransit allows these software applications to run immediately on the new servers, unlocking millions of dollars of cost savings. It also helps achieve ‘green’ objectives – replacing old computers with new servers generally saves electrical power and air conditioning demand and dramatically reduces the floor space required by the computer equipment.

Peer Recognition

The engineering innovation and high potential for Transitive products have been recognised in a number of industry awards, the most recent being the award of a European Information and Communication Technology Prize Grand Prize, being appointed a Technology Pioneer to the World Economic Forum, and being awarded Morgan Stanley’s CTO Award for Innovation.

For further information see www.transitive.com

 

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