Thursday, February 29, 2024

University of Nottingham research partnership results in new industry tech

A partnership, which paired researchers from the University of Nottingham with a UK tech company, has produced a highly advanced power converter to drive an electric motor that could revolutionise the manufacturing and renewable energy industries.

For the past five years, researchers from the university have worked closely with digital motor control solutions company, Sprint Electric, to develop and prototype the Generis AC regen drive – set to be the next generation in AC drive technology.

Launched at the Smart Production Solutions (SPS) exhibition in Nuremberg, one of the most highly regarded international trade fairs in the field of smart and digital automation solutions; this leap in innovation has been made possible thanks to two Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) between researchers at the University of Nottingham’s Power, Electronics and Machines Centre (PEMC), and Sprint Electric.

The aim of a KTP is to connect businesses that have an innovation idea with the academic expertise to develop new products or services, expand markets, and improve efficiency and productivity. In Sprint Electric’s case, it fully embraced the collaborative opportunity, establishing a base at the PEMC at Nottingham’s Jubilee Campus.

Dr Azlia Abdul Rahman, a PhD graduate recruited to lead the KTP, said: “I was based at these premises for the duration of the second KTP, which meant I was right there in the thick of it and involved at every stage of the research and development lifecycle.

“I worked closely with Associate Professor Liliana de Lillo as the main academic supervisor, while Professor Pat Wheeler, Head of the PEMC Research Group, oversaw the project. Liliana was part of a wider team of researchers supporting me in transferring the theoretical knowledge the company needed to develop the technology.

“Training Sprint Electric’s staff, documenting everything we did, and writing technical reports was just a fraction of my work – to all intents and purposes I ‘joined’ the company for two years to help make this happen.”

Sprint Electric has been manufacturing variable speed controllers since 1987, traditionally specialising in the control of DC motors. With the help of the University of Nottingham it has removed the need for a DC link in the AC drive, offering several advantages over conventional converters, such as higher efficiency, faster response, and two-way power flow. One of the main applications of matrix converters is in renewable energy systems, such as wind turbines, solar panels, and fuel cells.

Mark Gardiner, Director of Sprint Electric, said: “Our experience with KTPs has been a wholly positive one. Not only has it quickly and effectively embedded understanding of a complex technology in our business but it has also established a relationship with the PEMC group that I am confident will continue to deliver benefits to both parties in years to come.”

While KTPs may initially seem like consultancies, where a company hires an expert to advise and guide them through a project or period of transformation, there is more to them. Andrea McCluskey, Business Development Officer for KTP at the University of Nottingham, said: “KTPs meld the theory from the academic side with specialist knowledge and expertise from within a business.

“What they have achieved will absolutely transform Sprint Electric as a company, and part of the electronic motor industry as a whole. Not only will it give them a significant competitive advantage, but it could also completely change the landscape for other businesses now and in the future.”

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