Tomorrow’s engineers on track with the Railway Challenge

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The Railway Challenge is inspired by the well-established Formula Student Competition, which successfully bridges the gaps between theory, experience, industry and education for engineering undergraduates across Europe. It sets similarly competitive and rigorous challenges to final year undergraduate engineering students and industry apprentices – but on rails, designing a working locomotive. The Railway Challenge offers young engineers a glimpse of the engineering opportunities in the railway industry and a priceless chance for the railway industry to see the next generation of engineers and innovation at first hand.

Tomorrow’s engineers on track with the Railway ChallengeThe winning locomotive was not only designed and built by students at Huddersfield University’s Computing and Engineering School, it was also judged to be the premier entry based on their combined sales, business and project management skills. Independent judges from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers judged Huddersfield’s narrow victory over entrants from the University of Birmingham, Interfleet’s graduate team and Manchester Metropolitan University, based on performance throughout five challenges during an action packed weekend at Stapleford Miniature Railway.

There were three track-based challenges measuring energy reclaimed under braking, speed across a set distance and ride comfort, while two presentation-based challenges assessed the design quality and the business case put forward by each of the teams for the locomotive they built. Huddersfield’s winning design was a four-axle machine with a three-phase AC traction package which allowed the considerable power available to applied through the wheels without traction loss. The power and control system aboard was specified and sourced by the students themselves directly from Milton Keynes-based Rockwell Automation, which was happy to offer the resources as well as some guidance on getting the best from the technology.

Rockwell Automation Commercial Engineer, Hugh Pickard explains: “We were very impressed by the approach made by the Huddersfield University students and we were keen to be involved in the IMechE Railway challenge” The CompactLogix Controller, PowerFlex 755 AC drive and an MPM series Permanent Magnet Servo Motor provided to the Huddersfield team were tested at Rockwell Automation’s facilities in Milton Keynes before being transported to the University for installation into the locomotive. Pickard continues: “We are very happy Huddersfield were able to win under power from Rockwell Automation solutions but even more thrilled to see the levels of skill and innovation on show from the next generation of engineers from all entrants.”

Building teamwork skills

Simon Iwnicki, Director of the Institute of Railway Research at the School of Computing and Engineering at Huddersfield University has been involved in The Railway Challenge since its inception in 2012 and sees great value in this type of competition. He says: “There’s no doubt in my mind that the students enjoyed and benefited from the whole process. Not only does it make their studies feel much more real, but it also helps build teamwork skills – traditionally difficult to replicate in engineering-based courses.

We now have 16 students who are in the perfect position to approach potential railway employers with a competition winning, designed, developed and built locomotive on their CVs. Perhaps even more importantly it has changed their perception of the problem solving challenges and attractiveness of a career in railway engineering.”

The Challenge is already laid down for next year and Iwnicki is already casting his mind forward to the innovations by competing teams in 2014. He says: “All four locomotives this year were chain-driven systems – I’d love to see a team developing a different drive technology and perhaps look at making the locomotives lighter to improve efficiency. We’d also like to see the competition expand, and I’m sure that we can build on the success of this year’s challenge to encourage more entries for 2014.” If the 2013 Railway Challenge is anything to go by, it will certainly be keenly contested.

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