Queen to Open New Advanced Engineering Laboratory in UK

28 February 2005

The Queen will open a new advanced engineering laboratory at Bristol University, BLADE, which is playing a major role in developing advanced engineering systems.

The University of Bristol's new 18.5 million GBP research facility, BLADE (Bristol Laboratory for Advanced Dynamics Engineering), will be opened today by Her Majesty The Queen, who will be accompanied by His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh.

BLADE is playing a major role in developing the next generation of engineering systems such as aeroplanes, helicopters, bridges and buildings among many others, all of which have to meet ever-higher specifications to be stronger, lighter, more reliable under variable conditions and less harmful to the environment.

By bringing together leading academics from a range of disciplines and adopting a 'whole lifecycle' approach - from analysis and design to construction and performance monitoring - BLADE is seeking to address these challenges. Aerospace engineers, civil engineers, computer scientists, engineering mathematicians, Electrical Engineers and Mechanical Engineers are pooling their expertise in the quest for practical solutions.

Professor Eric Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said: ""This is probably the most advanced facility of its type in Europe and is helping to place the university and the city among the world leaders in this vital area of research, analysis and experiment"".

The multidisciplinary philosophy behind BLADE is also helping to reduce the possibility of engineering failures. According to BLADE, thousands of lives are lost every year and billions of pounds wasted when materials, components and assemblages fail. Aircraft losses, petrochemical industry disasters and earthquake damage are among the most devastating consequences of such failures. The estimated annual cost of engineering failures across the world is 40 billion GBP.

At BLADE, researchers can undertake precisely controlled experiments to find out how structures and systems behave under extreme conditions. They can test anything from individual composite fibres to entire concrete beams and aircraft structures to the limits of their performance and expose any weaknesses long before the components and systems are put into service.

Funding worth 15 million GBP for BLADE came from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Office for Science and Technology. The university itself committed a further 3.5 million GBP. Research at BLADE is carried out in six main laboratories.

The Earthquake and Large Structures Laboratory is one of the leading laboratories of its kind in the world in this subject area. It is a four-storey test hall with a 15m by 8m strong floor and 15m high strong walls. Structures weighing up to 15 tonnes can be tested to destruction on the EPSRC-funded Earthquake Simulator, or shaking table. Smart Control Electronics and powerful Hydraulic Actuators are able to recreate the conditions of even the most violent earthquakes on this 3m square, cast aluminium platform.

Other projects ongoing at BLADE include active engine mount development (a technology to develop quieter cars), the adaptive control of servohydraulics, and the control of flow behaviour in fluidised beds.

Work in the Modelling and Simulation Laboratory focuses on ways to better understand and design complicated engineering systems. Researchers here are developing analytical and computational tools for modelling and simulation. The research concentrates on nonlinear systems, that is, systems whose outputs are not proportional to their inputs.

BLADE researchers are using nonlinear dynamics techniques in applications ranging from resonant vibrations in cable-stayed bridges to the chaotic failure of micro and nanoscale devices.

Research in the Heavy and Light Materials Test Laboratory focuses on the development and testing of structures and materials using both computational and experimental approaches. Much of the work is focused on fibre reinforced Composites and advanced engineering alloys, and spans a broad spectrum from the development of novel materials, investigation and modelling of fundamental material and structural behaviour, through to design and analysis of aerospace structures using advanced materials and concepts.

A particular area of expertise is the study of damage development under fatigue loading, a matter of great concern to, for example, the aircraft industry. The laboratory's range of test machines enables researchers to test anything from single fibres up to large carbon fibre reinforced concrete beams.

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