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Earliest known Mariner’s Astrolabe research published today to go in Guinness Book of Records

Guinness World Records have independently certified an astrolabe excavated from the wreck site of a Portuguese Armada Ship that was part of Vasco da Gama’s second voyage to India in 1502-1503 as the oldest in the world, and have separately certified a ship’s bell (dated 1498) recovered from the same wreck site also as the oldest in the world.The astrolabe. Credit: David Mearns

A gunmetal disc excavated from the wreck site of a Portuguese Armada Ship and identified as a mariner’s astrolabe – and the earliest known example - by engineers at WMG, University of Warwick is to be published in the The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology

The astrolabe was discovered by David L. Mearns of Blue Water Recoveries Ltd, who directed the three-year archaeological project in collaboration with Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture

It has been named the Sodré astrolabe after the commander of the ship in which it was found: Vicente Sodré was the maternal uncle of Vasco da Gama and died when his ship, the Esmeralda, wrecked on the remote Omani Island of Al Hallaniyah in 1503.

It will be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest mariner’s astrolabe from as early as 1496

The scientific process of verifying the disc as an astrolabe by laser imaging is described in a paper published today by Mearns and Jason Warnett and Mark Williams of WMG at the University of Warwick in The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

The Sodré astrolabe which has made it into the Guinness Book of World Records is believed to have been made between 1496 and 1501 and is unique in comparison to all other mariner’s astrolabes.

Mariner’s Astrolabes were used for navigating at sea by early explorers, most notably the Portuguese and Spanish.

They are considered to be the rarest and most prized of artefacts to be found on ancient shipwrecks and only 104 examples are known to exist in the world.

They were first used at sea on a Portuguese voyage down the west coast of Africa in 1481. Thereafter, astrolabes were relied on for navigation during the most important explorations of the late 15th century, including those led by Bartolomeu Dias, Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama.

It is the only solid disk type astrolabe with a verifiable provenance and the only specimen decorated with a national symbol: the royal coat of arms of Portugal. GWR Astrolabe Credit: David Mearns

As the earliest verifiable mariner’s astrolabe it fills a chronological gap in the development of these iconic instruments and is believed to be a transitional instrument between the classic planispheric astrolabe and the open-wheel type astrolabe that came into use sometime before 1517.

The thin 175 mm diameter disk weighing 344 grams was analysed by a team from WMG who travelled to Muscat, Oman in November 2016 to collect laser scans of a selection of the most important artefacts recovered from the wreck site.  

Using a portable 7-axis Nikon laser scanner, capable of collecting over 50,000 points per second at an accuracy of 60 microns, a 3D virtual model of the artefact was created. Analysis of the results revealed a series of 18 scale marks spaced at uniform intervals along the limb of the disk.

Further analysis by WMG engineers showed that the spacing of the scale marks was equivalent to 5-degree intervals. This was critical evidence that allowed independent experts at Texas A&M University to include the disk in their global inventory as the earliest known mariner’s astrolabe discovered to date.

Prof Mark Williams from WMG, University of Warwick comments:

“Using this 3D scanning technology has enabled us to confirm the identity of the earliest known astrolabe, from this historians and scientists can determine more about history and how ships navigated.

Technology like this betters our understanding of how the disc would have worked back in the 15th century. Using technology normally applied within engineering projects to help shed insight into such a valuable artefact was a real privilege”

David Mearns of Blue Water Recoveries Ltd comments:

“Without the laser scanning work performed by WMG we would never have known that the scale marks, which were invisible to the naked eye, existed. Their analysis proved beyond doubt that the disk was a mariner’s astrolabe. This has allowed us to confidently place the Sodré astrolabe in its correct chronological position and propose it to be an important transitional instrument.”


First look at Coventry’s Innovative Light Rail Vehicle

Engineers and researchers at WMG, University of Warwick, are working alongside Transport Design International (TDI), based in Stratford, to develop a battery-powered, lightweight, rail-based vehicle to operate in Coventry.

Coventry VLR ExteriorThe WMG team, including engineers Darren Hughes and Andrew McGordon, are using their automotive engineering and battery expertise to assist TDI with the design of the vehicle for Coventry City Council, and now have a 3D simulation of the vehicle.

The vehicle will be battery-powered with the long term objective that it will become an autonomous vehicle, allowing more vehicles to operate intelligently and efficiently to meet passenger demand.

It will hold 50 passengers, and the longer term aim is that it will work like the London Underground system, where there is no timetable and people can hop on and off.

The vehicle will be a lightweight design using multiple materials including aluminium, steel and composites.

Due to being battery-powered there will be no overhead power supply which is both costly and has a negative impact to the city-scape. This feature provides future flexibility for operating on other non-electrified routes.

The first-of-a-kind design is available to view in 3D via WMG’s visualisation suite and the first test vehicle will be manufactured by mid-2020. TDI have partnered with Coventry-based Company RDM who will manufacture the vehicle once the design is complete.

A team of experts are also working to develop a new track system.

The Government’s Local Growth Fund through the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) has contributed £2.46 million towards phase one of the research and design of the prototype and £12.2 million has been secured from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Devolution Deal to undertake the research and development required to prove the VLR concept.

The WMCA has also allocated specialist resource from Transport for West Midlands to provide technical support, advice and guidance to the project team as the scheme develops.

Dr Darren Hughes, WMG, University of Warwick comments:

“The Coventry light-rail system will be innovative in bringing together technologies from a number of sectors to deliver a low-cost environmentally-sustainable public transport solution for the City of Coventry. Seeing the 3D simulation and envisaging how it will look within Coventry makes us look forward to building the first vehicle that will be ready for testing at a test track facility during 2020.”

Very Light RailCouncillor Jim O’Boyle, cabinet member for jobs and regeneration, comments:

“Very Light rail is a fantastic innovation and it has the potential to transform the way people travel. It will be much more affordable to install than traditional trams, take up far less road space, be able to run alongside traffic and our ultimate aim is that it doesn’t require a driver so it can be a frequent service.

“Coventry has a rich traditional of vehicle manufacturing and now we are leading the way in future transport too. This Very Light Rail work, combined with our work on driverless and connected cars puts us right at the forefront of creating new, ground breaking solutions for future transport needs. They will be safer and more environmentally friendly and I hope go on to provide good job opportunities for local people too.”

Jonathan Browning, chair of the CWLEP, comments:

“Coventry and Warwickshire is at the forefront of battery technology and this exciting scheme emphasises our skills at leading the way in innovation.

“This new technology will bring more jobs and investment to Coventry and Warwickshire and it underlines the value of partnership working to boost the area’s economy.

“It is great news that the prototype of the Very Light Rail vehicle will be built ahead of Coventry being UK City of Culture in 2021 when the area’s profile will be boosted on a global stage.”


Smarter, greener, cleaner steel: £35 million boost for research to transform UK steel industry

SteelsA smart, green and clean steel industry will come a giant step closer thanks to a new £35 million research network, announced today, which will see steelmakers and University experts work together on a seven-year research programme to transform the UK steel sector.

The network, called SUSTAIN, is to transform the whole steel supply chain, making it cleaner, greener and smarter, and more responsive to the fast-changing needs of customers. Its work will be concentrated on two areas:

· Zero waste iron and steelmaking, with the aim of making the industry carbon-neutral by 2040: Steel is already the world’s most recycled material, but the network will investigate new ways of making the industry’s processes and products even greener, such as harvesting untapped energy sources, capturing carbon emissions and re-processing societal and industrial waste streams.

· Smart steel processing: like any 21st century industry, steelmaking involves masses of data. SUSTAIN will develop new ways of acquiring and using this data to improve the steels produced as well as in new metallurgical processes, which can deliver bespoke high tech products.

Steel is the most widely-used structural material in the world. If a product isn’t made of steel it’s made using steel. Steel is at the heart of UK manufacturing sectors such as the car industry, construction, packaging and defence. It is an indispensable component of the UK’s future national infrastructure such as transport, communications and energy, and for high-tech 21st century industries, from energy-positive buildings to wind turbines and electric vehicles.

The work of SUSTAIN is projected to:

- Double UK steel manufacturers’ gross value added (GVA) by 2030

- Boost jobs in the industry to 35,000

- Increase productivity by 15%

SUSTAIN involves more than twenty partners across the UK steel industry: companies, trade bodies, research organisations and academic experts including WMG, University of Warwick. The network is being supported by £12.5M investment from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, as one of their Future Manufacturing Research Hubs, along with significant investment from the steel companies within the UK.

The announcement is a landmark as it is the first time that UK steel producers and representatives from the manufacturing sector have lined up behind a co-ordinated programme of research. It is also the largest ever single investment in steel research by a UK research council.

The plan is that SUSTAIN will be a seed from which much wider research and innovation will grow, drawing on expertise across UK academia and beyond.

Professor Claire Davis, from WMG, University of Warwick comments: “The UK has a rich tradition of research excellence and innovation in steel metallurgy. SUSTAIN will bring together leading research groups in this area, as well as introducing new expertise in big data and supply chain innovation, to work collaboratively with the UK industry.

The network will be able to tackle the large issues facing the steel industry, particularly in becoming low energy, carbon neutral, dynamic and responsive to customer needs. It is an exciting time to be working on steel as there are opportunities to contribute to making the planet a greener place.”

Dr Cameron Pleydell-Pearce, steel expert at Swansea University and SUSTAIN’s deputy director, said: “This news is a massive vote of confidence in the steel industry. It will support the industry’s vision for a responsible, innovative and creative future. We are already on the road to clean, green and smart steelmaking, but this is another giant step forward.

Research and innovation are the bedrock of a modern steel industry. This network represents almost the whole UK steel sector, with researchers and companies working together on an unprecedented scale. Here in Swansea we’re proud to lead it.”

Gareth Stace, UK Steel Director General, said: "This new boost of innovation funding into the sector is a vital piece of the puzzle to help deliver our vision of a cutting-edge, vibrant, and sustainable steel industry in the UK.

The future success of our sector rests on our ability to remain at the forefront of product and process innovation, delivering the new steel products demanded by our customers and society. This new hub will enable us to do just that.”


The virtual factory – boost for steel innovation with £7 million to speed up new alloy development

Steel workerA new method of testing alloys - Rapid Alloy Prototyping, is 100 times faster than current methods, allowing new products to reach the market more quickly, thanks to £7 million of funding announced today for a new “virtual factory” designed by the Prosperity Partnership, including WMG at the University of Warwick.

This Prosperity Partnership – led by Swansea University and involving WMG at the University of Warwick, will implement a Rapid Alloy Prototyping (RAP) process, thanks to £7 million of funding announced today from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Rapid Alloy Prototyping effectively means that much of the testing can be carried out in research labs and imaging suites - a virtual factory – rather than in an actual steel plant.


WMG part of a £37m project to develop lightweight vehicles

A new research project, Tucana, will focus on lighweighting technology, delivering stiffer and lighter vehicle structures with the help of experts from WMG, at the UniversityLightweighting technology of Warwick.

The research will develop world-leading cost effective, scalable carbon fibre composite solutions, with the view to boosting the performance of electric vehicles. The CO2 benefit of the project between 2023-2032, will be 4.5 million tonnes.

WMG will receive £4m, of the £18.7m government funding through the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), to drive the development of innovative lightweight vehicle and powertrain structures, building on the UK’s leading-edge capability in this area.

Project Tucana will allow the true environmental credentials of electric vehicles to be realised by enabling wider adoption. Tucana will deliver this step-change by addressing structural performance at a design, material and volume manufacturing-level which is currently unmet across the industry.


Car component quality testing technology helps hip surgeons ensure prostheses bind to bones

Hip surgeons are making significant advances in designing hip replacement components using additive manufacturing (3D printing) but have been struggling to devise easy methods of testing the designs they have created without using destructive testing techniques. Now researchers in WMG at the University of Warwick have devised a way of examining and ensuring the quality of those designs without destructive testing using scanning techniques normally used to examine new component designs for high-end automotive manufacturing.Professor Mark Williams

Successful surgical reconstruction or replacement of a joint (arthroplasty) requires integration of the prosthetic implant with the bone to replace the damaged joint. Surgeons therefore seek to use Bone-mimetic biomaterials for implants as their mechanical properties and porous structure can be designed to allow bone ingrowth and help fix the implant.


WMG Professor chairs Royal Academy of Engineering event

Professor Kerry KirwanProfessor Kerry Kirwan is looking forward to taking part in the fifth Royal Academy of Engineering’s Frontiers of Engineering for Development symposium, which takes place from 29th April to 2nd May.

The three-day event takes place at the Academy's home, Prince Philip House, in London, UK. Professor Kirwan, who leads our sustainable materials and manufacturing team, will be chairing a session on Frontiers of Engineering for Development: The Circular Economy.

The symposium is part of a series of international, interdisciplinary workshops that aim to facilitate network building, encourage collaborative work and promote international development and cross-disciplinary thinking among the future leaders of engineering from the UK and around the world.

More information on the symposium can be found here.

Fri 27 Apr 2018, 14:07 | Tags: Materials and Manufacturing Kerry Kirwan

Award-winning WMG research makes Ford cars lighter and more efficient

Ford cars could be more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly, thanks to a new lightweight rear suspension component, designed by the award-winning Innovate UK project Composite Lightweight Automotive Suspension System (CLASS), involving WMG at the University of Warwick.

Led by Ford Motor Company, in partnership with WMG, Gestamp Chassis and GRM, the CLASS project consortium developed a new tieblade-knuckle for a Ford Class C vehicle, a key element for the car’s rear suspension.

Led by Ford Motor Company, in partnership with WMG

An optimised design and manufacturing process developed by WMG enabled the researchers to replace the car’s current multiple-piece fabricated steel component with a single moulding - making a weight saving in excess of 4.5kg per vehicle, a 35% saving on the current part.

This will result in CO2 savings over the lifetime of the vehicle, and the technology is appropriate for much wider vehicle chassis and body applications.

In March 2018, the CLASS project won a JEC Innovation Award, in the Automotive Innovation category.

Researchers at WMG carried out materials selection by moulding test plaques and measuring material performance characteristics. This was fed into the design of the part, carried out by Gestamp, before optimisation of the design, carried out by GRM.


Professor Tony McNally selected as overseas expert

Professor Tony McNallyWe are proud to announce that Professor Tony McNally has been selected by China’s Ministry of Education and State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs under Plan 111 as a Foreign Expert to advise in the manufacture and characterisation of functional composite materials.

China’s Plan 111 is jointly organised by the Ministry of Education and State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs, P.R. China. It aims to gather groups of first-class minds from around the world to work with leading Chinese researchers on the creation of 100 dedicated innovation centres.

Over the next 5 years Professor McNally will be working in collaboration with the International Innovation Centre for Advanced Manufacturing proposed by the School of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Beijing University of Chemical Technology (BUCT).


Professor Tony McNally announced as Editor-in-Chief of new Functional Composite Materials journal

Professor Tony McNallyProfessor Tony McNally, who heads up Nanocomposites research at WMG has been announced as the first Editor-in-Chief of the newly formed journal, Functional Composite Materials.

The Associate Editors and the Editorial Board, led by Professor McNally, include the leading academics in the field from around the world. The journal will consider contributions on all types of composite materials where composite functionality can be clearly demonstrated.

Functional Composite Materials is published by SpringerNature. The publisher producers a number of key research journals and books globally on science, technology, medicine, humanities and social sciences.


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