Author: Dr. Natalie Wint (UCL). 

Topic: Responsibility for micro- and nano-plastics in the environment and human bodies.  

Engineering disciplines: Chemical Engineering; Environmental Engineering; Materials Engineering; Mechanical Engineering. 

Ethical issues: Corporate social responsibility; Power; Safety; Respect for the Environment. 

Professional situations: Whistleblowing; Company growth; Communication; Public health and safety. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

Educational aim: Becoming Ethically Sensitive: being broadly cognizant of ethical issues and having the ability to see how these issues might affect others. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study involves a young engineering student on an industrial placement year at a firm that manufactures cosmetics. The student has been working hard to impress the company as they are aware that this may lead to them being offered a job upon graduation. They are involved in a big project that focuses on alternative, more environmentally friendly cosmetic chemistries. When they notice a potential problem with the new formulation, they must balance their commitment towards environmental sustainability with their desire to work for the company upon graduation.  

This dilemma can be addressed from a micro-ethics point of view by analysing personal ethics, intrinsic motivations and moral values. It can also be analysed from a macro-ethics point of view, by considering corporate responsibility and intergenerational justice. The dilemma can also be framed to emphasise global responsibility and environmental justice whereby the engineers consider the implications of their decisions on global communities and future generations.  

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities, as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:   

Teachers have the opportunity to:    

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Professional organisations: 

EU agencies: 

Industry publications: 

EU law: 

 

Dilemma – Part one: 

Microplastics are solid plastic particles composed of mixtures of polymers and functional additives; they also contain residual impurities. Microplastics generally fall into two groups: those that are unintentionally formed as a result of the wear and tear of larger pieces of plastic, and those that are deliberately manufacturedand added to products for specific purposes (primary microplastics). Microplastics are intentionally added to a range of products including cosmetics, in which they act as abrasives and can control the thickness, appearance, and stability of a product.  

Legislation pertaining to the use of microplastics varies worldwide and several loopholes in the regulations have been identified. Whilst many multinational companies have fought the introduction of such regulations, other stakeholders have urged for the use of the precautionary principle, suggesting that all synthetic polymers should be regulated in order to prevent significant damage to both the environment and human health. 

Recently, several changes to the regulation of microplastics have been proposed within Europe. One that affects the cosmetics industry particularly concerns the intentional addition of microplastics to cosmetics. Manufacturers, especially those who export their products, have therefore been working to change their products. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:  

1. Discussion: Professional values – What ethical principles and codes of conduct are applicable to the use of microplastics? Should these change or be applied differently when the microplastics are used in products that may be swallowed or absorbed through the eyes or skin?

2. Activity: Research some of the current legislation in place surrounding the use of microplastics. Focus on the strengths and limitations of such legislation.  

3. Activity: Technical integration – Research the potential health and environmental concerns surrounding microplastics. Investigate alternative materials and/or technological solutions to the microplastic ‘problem’.  

4. Discussion: Familiarise yourself with the precautionary principle. What are the advantages and disadvantages of applying the precautionary principle in this situation?  

 

Dilemma – Part two: 

Alex is a young engineering student on an industrial placement year at a firm that manufactures cosmetics. The company has been commended for their sustainable approach and Alex is really excited to have been offered a role that involves work aligned with their passion. They are working hard to impress the company as they are aware that this may lead to them being offered a job upon graduation.  

Alex is involved in a big project that focuses on alternative, more environmentally friendly cosmetic chemistries. Whilst working in the formulation laboratory, they notice that some of the old filler material has been left near the preparation area. The container is not securely fastened, and residue is visible in the surrounding area. The filler contains microplastics and has recently been taken out of products. However, it is still in stock so that it could be used for comparative testing, during which the performance of traditional, microplastic containing formulations are compared to newly developed formulations. It is unusual for the old filler material to be used outside of the testing laboratory and Alex becomes concerned about the possibility that the microplastics have been added to a batch of the new product that had been made the previous day. They raise the issue to their supervisor, asking whether the new batch should be quarantined.  

“We wouldn’t ever hold such a large, lucrative order based on an uncertainty like that,” the supervisor replies, claiming that even if there was contamination it wasn’t intentional and would therefore not be covered by the legislation. “Besides, most of our products go to countries where the rules are different.” 

Alex mentions the health and environmental issues associated with microplastics, and the reputation the company has with customers for being ethical and sustainable. They suggest that they bring the issue up with the waste and environmental team who have expertise in this area.  

Their supervisor replies: “Everyone knows that the real issue is the microplastics that are formed from disintegration of larger plastics. Bringing up this issue is only going to raise questions about your competence.”  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Personal values – What competing personal values or motivations might trigger an internal conflict for Alex? 

2. Activity: Research intergenerational justice and environmental justice. How do they relate to this case? 

3. Activity: Identify all potential stakeholders and their values, motivations, and responsibilities. 

4. Discussion: Consider both the legislation in place and the RAEng/Engineering Council Ethical Principles. What should Alex do according to each of these? Is the answer the same for both? If not, which set of guidance is more important? 

5. Discussion: How do you think the issue of microplastics should be controlled? 

6. Activity: Alex and their boss are focused on primary microplastics. Consider the lifecycle of bulk plastics and the various stakeholders involved. Who should be responsible for the microplastics generated during the disintegration of plastic products?

7. Discussion: What options for action does Alex have available to them? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? What would you do if you were Alex? 

8. Activity: Technical integration related to calculations or experiments on microplastics. 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.


Author:
Dr Gill Lacey (Teesside University).

Topic: Maintenance of an offshore wind farm.

Engineering disciplines: Mechanical; Energy.

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Risk.

Professional Situations: Public health and safety; Quality of work; Conflicts with leadership/management.

Educational level: Beginner.

Educational aim: Becoming Ethically Aware: determining that a single situation can be considered from a ethical point of view.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

The case is based on a genuine challenge raised by a multinational energy company that operates an offshore wind farm in the North Sea. It involves three professional engineers responsible for various aspects of the project to negotiate elements of safety, risk, environmental impact, and costs, in order to develop a maintenance plan for the wind turbine blades.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

This case is presented in two parts. In the first part, the perspectives and responsibilities of the three engineers are outlined so that students can determine what professional and ethical responsibilities are inherent in their roles. In the second part, a scenario is developed that puts the roles into potential conflict. Students then have the opportunity to work through a real-world brief that requires them to negotiate in order to present a solution to management. Teachers can choose to use Part one in isolation, or some or all of Part two to expand on the issues in the case. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities, as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

Professional organisations:

Business:

Journal articles:

 

Dilemma – Part one:

Offshore wind has huge benefits to the electricity industry as a renewable, low carbon resource.  The size and scale of the turbines, together with the remoteness – the wind farm referred to in this case is 200 km from shore – are a problem. However, it is a rapidly maturing industry and many of the issues around accessibility during installation have been solved. A wind farm is expected to generate for twenty years and so a system of inspection and maintenance needs to be put in place. At the same time, the environmental impact of industrial activity (including ongoing maintenance and repairs) needs to be managed in order to mitigate risks to ecosystem resources and services provided by the open sea.

In this wind farm there are one hundred turbines, each with three blades. The blades are 108 m long. Clearly, they need to be kept in good condition. However, inspecting the blades is a difficult and time consuming job.

There are three engineers that are responsible for various aspects of maintenance of the wind turbine blades. They are:

1. Blade engineer: My job is to make sure the blades are in good condition so that the wind farm operates as it was designed and generates as much power as possible. I am responsible for:

2. Health and safety engineer: My job is to make sure that the technicians who inspect and maintain the turbine blades are at minimal risk. I need to ensure compliance with:

3. Environmental engineer: My job is to ensure that the ecosystem is damaged as little as possible during turbine inspection and maintenance, and to rectify as best as possible any adverse effects that are incurred. After all, wind power is considered to be “green” energy and so wind farms should do as little damage to the environment as possible. This work helps:

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What sort of instances might cause damage to the turbine blades? (Possible answers: bird strike, collision with a vessel, storm, ice etc.)

2. Discussion: What problems might a damaged blade cause? (Possible answers: a damaged blade cannot generate properly; it might unbalance the other two blades until the whole turbine is affected. If a blade were to come loose it could strike another turbine blade, a vessel, sea creatures etc.)

3. Activity: Research how blade inspection is done. (Answer: a combination of photos from drones and reports from crew who need to use rope access to take a close look.)

a. If a drone is used, what issues might the drone have? (Answers: needs to be operated from a nearby vessel; weather (wind!); getting good resolution photos from a vibrating and moving drone; energy (battery) to power the drone.)

b. If a technician goes onsite, what issues are there with rope access? (Answers: time consuming; dangerous; can only be done in good weather; have to stop the turbine to access; training the inspection team; recording the findings.)

4. Discussion: What competing values or motivations might conflict in this scenario? Explain what constraints each engineer might be operating under and the potential conflicts between the roles.

5. Activity: Research what health and safety, environmental, and legal policies affect offshore wind farms. If they are in the open sea, which country’s laws are applied? Who is responsible for maintaining ecosystem health in the open sea? How are harms identified and mitigated?

 

Dilemma – Part two:

So, the blade engineer wants maintenance done effectively, with as little down time as possible; the H&S engineer wants it done safely, with as little danger to crew as possible; while the environmental engineer wants it done with as little damage to the ecosystem as possible. These three people must together develop an inspection plan that will be approved by upper management, who are largely driven by profitability – limited downtime in maintenance means increased profits as well as more energy delivered to customers.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

The students are then presented with a brief that gives some background to the wind farms and the existing inspection regime. The brief is structured to allow engineering design, engineering drawing and technical research to take place alongside consideration of potential ethical dilemmas.

Brief: In teams of three, where each team member is assigned a different role outlined above (blade engineer, health and safety engineer, environmental engineer), propose a feasible method for blade inspection that:

Aspects to consider:

Teachers could task teams to work together to:

The pitch could include details of:

 

1. Activity: Working in groups, consider possible solutions:

a. Explore 2 or 3 alternatives to answer the need or problem, identifying the ethical concerns in each.

b. Analyse the alternative solutions to identify potential benefits, risks, costs, etc.

c. Justify the proposed solution.

 (Apart from the design process, this activity allows some discussion over the choice of solution. Looking at more than one allows the quieter students to speak out and justify their thinking.)

2. Activity: Working in groups, present a solution that consists of one or more of the following:

a. Make a CAD or drawn prototype.

b. Make a physical or 3D model.

c. Create a poster detailing the solution which could include technical drawings.

d. Presentation.

 

Students will be assessed according to:

a. Quality of final solution

b. Construction and testing of model

c. Innovation and originality

d. Communication skills

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Author: Dr J.L. Rowlandson (University of Bristol).

Topic: Home heating in the energy transition. 

Engineering disciplines: Chemical; Civil; Mechanical; Energy. 

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Social responsibility. 

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Conflicts of interest; Quality of work; Conflicts with leadership/management; Legal implication. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

Educational aim: Becoming Ethically Sensitive: being broadly cognizant of ethical issues and having the ability to see how these issues might affect others. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study considers not only the environmental impacts of a clean technology (the heat pump) but also the social and economic impacts on the end user. Heat pumps form an important part of the UK government’s net-zero plan. Our technical knowledge of heat pump performance can be combined with the practical aspects of implementing and using this technology. However, students need to weigh the potential carbon savings against the potential economic impact on the end user, and consider whether current policy incentivises consumers to move towards clean heating technologies.  

This case study offers students an opportunity to practise and improve their skills in making estimates and assumptions. It also enables students to learn and practise the fundamentals of energy pricing and link this to the increasing issue of fuel poverty. Fundamental thermodynamics concepts, such as the second law, can also be integrated into this study.  

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The dilemma in this case is presented in six parts. If desired, a teacher can use the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Parts two to six develop and complicate the concepts presented in the Summary and Part one to provide for additional learning. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities, as desired. 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Open access textbooks: 

Journal articles: 

Educational institutions: 

Business: 

Government reports: 

Other organisations: 

Stakeholder mapping: 

 

Summary – Heating systems and building requirements: 

You are an engineering consultant working for a commercial heat pump company. The company handles both the manufacture and installation of heat pumps. You have been called in by a county council to advise and support a project to decarbonise both new and existing housing stock. This includes changes to social housing (either directly under the remit of the council or by working in partnership with a local housing association) and also to private housing, encouraging homeowners and landlords to move towards net zero emissions. In particular, the council is interested in the installation of clean heating technologies with a focus on heat pumps, which it views as the most technologically-ready solution. Currently most heating systems rely on burning natural gas in a boiler to provide heat. By contrast, a heat-pump is a device that uses electricity to extract heat from the air or ground and transfer it to the home, avoiding direct emission of carbon dioxide.  

The council sets your first task of the project as assessing the feasibility of replacing the existing gas boiler systems with heat pumps in social housing. You are aware that there are multiple stakeholders involved in this process you need to consider, in addition to evaluating the suitability of the housing stock for heat pump installation.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Why might the council have prioritised retrofitting the social housing stock with heat pumps as the first task of the project? How might business and ethical concerns affect this decision?  

2. Activity: Use stakeholder mapping to determine who are the main stakeholders in this project and what are their main priorities? In which areas will these stakeholders have agreements or disagreements? What might their values be, and how do those inform priorities?  

3. Discussion: What key information about the property is important for choosing a heating system? What does the word feasibility mean and how would you define it for this project? 

4. Activity: Research the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC):  what are the main factors that determine the energy performance of a building?  

5. Discussion: What do you consider to be an ‘acceptable’ EPC rating? Is the EPC rating a suitable measure of energy efficiency? Who should decide, and how should the rating be determined?  

 

Technical pre-reading for Part one: 

It is useful to introduce the thermodynamic principles on which heat pumps operate in order to better understand the advantages and limitations when applying this engineering technology in a real-world situation. A heat pump receives heat (from the air, ground, or water) and work (in the form of electricity to a compressor) and then outputs the heat to a hot reservoir (the building you are heating). We recommend covering: 

An online, open-source textbook that covers both topics is Applications of Thermodynamics – Heat Pumps & Refrigerators. 

 

Dilemma – Part one – Considering heat pump suitability: 

You have determined who the main stakeholders are and how to define the project feasibility. A previous investigation commissioned by the council into the existing housing stock, and one of the key drivers for them to initiate this project, has led them to believe that most properties will not require significant retrofitting to make them suitable for heat pump installation.  

 

Optional STOP for question and activities: 

1. Activity: Research how a conventional gas boiler central heating system works. How does a heat pump heating system differ? What heat pump technologies are available? What are the design considerations for installing a heat pump in an existing building? 

 

Dilemma – Part two – Inconsistencies: 

You spot some inconsistencies in the original investigation that appear to have been overlooked. On your own initiative, you decide to perform a more thorough investigation into the existing housing stock within the local authority. Your findings show that most of the dwellings were built before 1980 and less than half have an EPC rating of C or higher. The poor energy efficiency of the existing housing stock causes a potential conflict of interest for you: there are a significant number of properties that would require additional retrofitting to ensure they are suitable for heat pump installation. Revealing this information to the council at this early stage could cause them to pull out of the project entirely, causing your company to lose a significant client. You present these findings to your line manager who wants to suppress this information until the company has a formal contract in place with the council.  

 

Optional STOP for question and activities: 

1. Discussion: How should you respond to your line manager? Is there anyone else you can go to for advice? Do you have an obligation to reveal this information to your client (the council) when it is they who overlooked information and misinterpreted the original study? 

2. Activity: An example of a factor that causes a poor EPC rating is how quickly the property loses heat. A common method for significantly reducing heat loss in a home is to improve the insulation. Estimate the annual running cost of using an air-source heat pump in a poorly-insulated versus a well-insulated home to look at the potential financial impact for the tenant (example approach shown in the Appendix, Task A). 

3. Discussion: What recommendations would you make to the council to ensure the housing is heat-pump ready? Would your recommendation change for a new-build property? 

 

Dilemma – Part three – Impact of energy costs on the consumer: 

Your housing stock report was ultimately released to the council and they have decided to proceed, though for a more limited number of properties. The tenants of these dwellings are important stakeholders who are ultimately responsible for the energy costs of their properties. A fuel bill is made up of the wholesale cost of energy, network costs to transport it, operating costs, taxes, and green levies. Consumers pay per unit of energy used (called the unit cost) and also a daily fixed charge that covers the cost of delivering energy to a home regardless of the amount of energy used (called the standing charge). In the UK, currently the price of natural gas is the main driver behind the price of electricity; the unit price of electricity is typically three to four times the price of gas. 

Your next task is to consider if replacing the gas boiler in a property with a heat pump system will have a positive or negative effect on the running costs.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Estimate the annual running cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler (see Appendix Task B for an example approach). 

2. Discussion: Energy prices are currently rising and have seen drastic changes in the UK over the past year. The lifetime of a new heat pump system is around 20 years. How would rising gas and electric prices affect the tenant? Does this impact the feasibility of using a gas boiler versus a heat pump? How can engineering knowledge and expertise help inform pricing policies? 

 

Dilemma – Part four – Tenants voice concerns: 

After a consultation, some of the current tenants whose homes are under consideration for heat pump installation have voiced concerns. The council is planning to install air-source heat pumps due to their reduced capital cost compared to a ground-source heat pump. The tenants are concerned that the heat pump will not significantly reduce their fuel bills in the winter months (when it is most needed) and instead could increase their bills if the unit price and standing charge for electricity continue to increase. They want a guarantee from the council that their energy bills will not be adversely affected. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Why would air-source heat pumps be less effective in winter? What are the potential effects of increased energy bills on the tenants? How much input should the tenants have on the heating system in their rented property? 

2. Discussion: Do the council have any responsibility if the installation does result in an increased energy bill in the winter for their tenants? Do you and your company have any responsibility to the tenants?  

 

Dilemma – Part five – The council consultation: 

The council has hosted an open consultation for private homeowners within the area that you are involved in. They want to encourage owners of private dwellings to adopt low-carbon technologies and are interested in learning about the barriers faced and what they can do to encourage the adoption of low carbon-heating technologies. The ownership of houses in the local area is similar to the overall UK demographic: around 20% of dwellings are in the social sector (owned either by the local authority or a housing association), 65% are privately owned, and 15% are privately rented.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Estimate the lifetime cost of running an air-source heat pump and ground-source heat pump versus a natural gas boiler. Include the infrastructure costs associated with installation of the heating system (see Appendix Task C for an example approach). This can be extended to include the impact of increasing energy prices.  

2. Activity: Research the policies, grants, levies, and schemes available at local and national levels that aim to encourage uptake of net zero heating. 

3. Discussion: From your estimations and research, how suitable are the current schemes? What recommendations would you make to improve the uptake of zero carbon heating? 

 

Dilemma – Part six – Recommendations: 

Energy costs and legislation are important drivers for encouraging homeowners and landlords to adopt clean heating technologies. There is a need to weigh up potential cost savings with the capital cost associated with installing a new heat system. Local and national policies, grants, levies, and bursaries are examples of tools used to fund and support adoption of renewable technologies. Currently, an environmental and social obligations cost, known as the ‘green levies,’ are added to energy bills which contribute to a mixture of social and environmental energy policies (including, for example, renewable energy projects, discounts for low-income households, and energy efficiency improvements).  

Your final task is to think more broadly on encouraging the uptake of low-carbon heating systems in private dwellings (the majority of housing in the UK) and to make recommendations on how both councils locally and the government nationally can encourage uptake in order to reduce carbon emissions.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: In terms of green energy policy, where does the ethical responsibility lie –  with the consumer, the local government, or the national government?  

2. Discussion: Should the national Government set policies like the green levy that benefit the climate in the long-term but increase the cost of energy now?  

3. Discussion: As an employee of a private company, to what extent is the decarbonisation of the UK your problem? Do you or your company have a responsibility to become involved in policy? What are the advantages or disadvantages to yourself as an engineer?  

 

Appendix: 

The three tasks that follow are designed to encourage students to practise and improve their zeroth order approximation skills (for example a back of the envelope calculation). Many simplifying assumptions can be made but they should be justified.  

Task A: Impact of insulation 

Challenge: Estimate the annual running cost for an air-source heat pump in a poorly insulated home. Compare to a well-insulated home.  

Base assumptions around the heat pump system and the property being heated can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume:  

Example estimation: 

1. Estimate the overall heat loss for a poorly- and well-insulated property.

Note: heat loss is greater in the poorly insulated building.

 

 2. Calculate the work input for the heat pump.  

Assumption: heat pump matches the heat loss to maintain a consistent temperature.

 Note: a higher work input is required in the poorly insulated building to maintain a stable temperature.

 

3. Determine the work input over a year. 

Assumption: heat pump runs for 8 hours per day for 365 days.

 

4. Determine the running cost 

For an electricity unit price of 33.8 p per kWh.

 

Note: running cost is higher for the poorly insulated building due to the higher work input required to maintain temperature. 

 

Task B: Annual running cost estimation 

Challenge: Estimate the annual running cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler.  

Base assumptions around the boiler system, heat pump system, and property can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume: 

Energy tariffs (correct at time of writing) for the domestic consumer including the energy price guarantee discount: 

Domestic energy tariffs 
Electric standing charge  51.0p per day 
Unit price of electricity  33.8p per kWh 
Gas standing charge  26.8p per kWh 
Unit price of gas  10.4p per kWh 

 

Example estimation: 

1. Calculate the annual power requirement for each case. 

Assumed heating requirement is 15,000 kWh for the year. 

2. Calculate the annual cost for each case: 

Note: the higher COP of the ground-source heat pump makes this the more favourable option (dependent on the fuel prices).  

 

Task C: Lifetime cost estimation  

Challenge: Estimate the total lifetime cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler.  

Base assumptions around the boiler system, heat pump system, and property can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume: 

Energy tariffs (correct at time of writing) for the domestic consumer including the energy price guarantee discount: 

Domestic energy tariffs 
Electric standing charge  51.0p per day 
Unit price of electricity  33.8p per kWh 
Gas standing charge  26.8p per kWh 
Unit price of gas  10.4p per kWh 

 

1. Calculate the lifetime running cost for each case.

 

2. Calculate the total lifetime cost for each case.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Case enhancement: Industrial pollution from an ageing pipeline

Activity: Prompts to facilitate discussion activities.

Author: Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

 

Overview:

There are several points in this case during which an educator can facilitate a class discussion about relevant issues. Below are prompts for discussion questions and activities that can be used. These correspond with the stopping points outlined in the case. Each prompt could take up as little or as much time as the educator wishes, depending on where they want the focus of the discussion to be.

 

Case Summary – Discussion prompts:

1. Professional Contexts. The question listed in the case study is meant to elicit students’ consideration of working as an engineer in a professional culture different from the one they are familiar with. To answer this question, educators could have students reflect quietly and make notes for a few minutes, or discuss with a partner before sharing with the class. If students are hesitant to engage in questions of cultural differences, they could be prompted to examine why they have that discomfort. Educators might also want to prepare for conversations like this by reviewing the guidance article Tackling tough topics in discussion.

2. Meeting Preparation. The question listed in the case study focuses on the choices that engineers make when presenting data; that is, should they show managers a complete or incomplete picture of the situation in question? What implications does that have in terms of managers’ ability to make decisions? The question also is meant to help students consider aspects of professional communication. Students could be tasked with actually doing a version of the meeting preparation as pairs in the classroom, or they could do this as a reflective exercise as well.

 

Dilemma – Part one – Discussion prompts:

1. Personal and Professional Responsibility. Here, students are being asked to explore their own personal responses to the informal housing situation outside the factory and interrogate whether or not that response could or should affect their professional actions. The question also investigates the scope of professional responsibility, and at what point an engineer has fulfilled this or fallen short. To engage students in this discussion, educators could split the class in half, with half the room discussing the position that Yasin does NOT have a responsibility, and why; and the other half discussing the position that Yasin DOES have a responsibility and why. Alternatively, students could be asked to write down their own answer to this question along with reasoning why or why not, and then the educator could ask volunteers to share responses in order to open up the discussion.

2. Economic Contexts. Students can use this question to expand on question 1 of this section, and in fact they may already have drawn cost into their reasoning. One way to open up this discussion is to think of the broader costs, meaning: is there a social or environmental cost that the company externalises through its polluting activities? Another way into the question is to go back to the question of responsibility, because engineers are routinely responsible for making budgets and judgements related to costs. Through this financial activity, are they able to advocate for more ethical practices, and should they?

 

Dilemma – Part two – Discussion prompts

1. Job Offer. This question is meant to point to the issue of bribery, and have students wrestle with the situations presented in the case. Educators could have students review various definitions of bribery, including the one in the RAEng’s Statement of Ethical Principles. They could compare this with the Engineering Council of India’s Code of Ethics. What do these two codes say about Yasin’s case? If they don’t give clear guidance, what should Yasin do? Students could discuss why or why not they think this is bribery in small or large groups, and could debate what Yasin’s action should be and why.

2. External Reporting. This question addresses whistleblowing, and what responsibilities engineers have for reporting unethical actions to professional or legal entities. Students could be asked individually to answer the question and give reasons why, based on the codes of ethics relevant to the case. They could also answer the question based on their own personal values. Then they could discuss their responses in small groups and interrogate whether or not the codes conflict with their values. Educators could at this point raise the question of whether or not there may be different cultural expectations in this area that Yasin might have to navigate, and if so, if this should make any difference to the action he should take. Students could also be asked to chart out the personal and professional repercussions Yasin could experience for either action. This discussion could be good preparation for activity #5, the debate.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Case enhancement: Glass safety in a heritage building conversion

Activity: Do engineers have a responsibility to warn the public if there is a chance of risk?

Author: Cortney Holles (Colorado School of Mines, USA).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part two, Point 1 section of this case: Debate whether or not Krystyna has an ethical or professional responsibility to warn relevant parties (“of matters . . .  which are of potential detriment to others who may be adversely affected by them” – The Society of Construction Law’s Statement of Ethical Principles).

After introducing or studying the Glass Safety case, teachers may want students to dig deeper into the ethical issues in the case through a debate.  The resources and lesson plan below guide teachers through this lesson.

 

1. Introduce the debate assignment:

Students will debate whether or not Krystyna has an ethical or professional responsibility to warn relevant parties. Build in some time for students to prepare their arguments in small groups (either during class or as a homework assignment).  Create small groups of 2-5 students that can develop positions on each of the following positions on the question of the debate:

Does Krystyna have a responsibility to warn Sir Robert or future residents of the buildings about the glass?

 

2. Supporting the arguments in the debate with texts:

Provide students with resources that offer support for the different positions in the debate, listed below.  Perhaps you have assigned readings in the class they can be asked to reference for support in the debate.  Teachers could also assign students to conduct independent research on these stakeholders and positions if that matches the goals of the class.

 

Resources:

Journal articles:

Law:

Professional organisations:

Educational institution:

Ethics:

 

3. Running the debate in class:

Key concepts this debate can cover:

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Authors: Mr Neil Rogers (Independent Scholar); Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

Topic: Suitable technology for developing countries. 

Engineering disciplines: Mechanical engineering; Electrical engineering; Energy. 

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Honesty; Integrity; Public good. 

Professional situations: Communication; Bribery; Working cultures; Honesty; Transparency. 

Educational level: Advanced. 

Educational aim: Practicing Ethical Reasoning: the application of critical analysis to specific events in order to evaluate and respond to problems in a fair and responsible way. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study requires a newly appointed engineer to make a decision about whether or not to sell unsuitable equipment to a developing country. Situated in Ghana, the engineer must weigh perspectives on environmental ethics that may differ from those informed by a different cultural background, as well as navigate unfamiliar workplace expectations. 

The engineer’s own job security is also at stake, which may complicate decision-making. As a result, this case has several layers of relations and potential value-conflicts. These include values that underlie assumptions held about honesty, integrity, the environment and its connection to human life and services. 

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

This case study is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired.  

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Educational institutions: 

Journal articles: 

Professional organisations: 

News articles: 

NGOs: 

 

Pre-reading: 

To prepare for activities related to environmental ethics, teachers may want to read, or assign students to pre-read, the academic articles found in the resource list: ‘Environmental ethics: An overview’ or ‘Mean or Green: Which values can promote stable pro-environmental behaviour?’ 

 

Dilemma – Part one: 

You have just graduated from university as a mechanical engineer and you are starting your first job as a sales engineer for JCD Engineering, a company that designs and manufactures pumping equipment. JCD has recently expanded operations in sub-Saharan Africa and you took the job because you were excited for the opportunity to travel and work in a country and culture different from your own.  

For your first project, you have been asked to put together quite a large bid for a water pumping aid project for some farms in northern Ghana. It just so happens that there is a trade show being held in Accra, so your manager has suggested you attend the show with a colleague to help on the company stand and combine this with a site visit to where the pumping equipment is to be installed. A representative from the aid organisation agrees to drive you to where the project will be sited before the trade show takes place. 

On arrival in Ghana, you are met by the rep to take you on your journey up country. This is your first visit to a developing country; you are excited, a little apprehensive and quite surprised by disorganisation at the airport, poor infrastructure, and obvious poverty in the villages up country. Still, you immediately see the difference that water pump installation could make to improve quality of life in villages. After two days of travelling, you eventually arrive at the village where the project JCD is bidding on will be situated. You are surprised to hear that the aid rep is quite cynical about engineering aid projects from the UK; this is because many have failed and she hopes that this won’t be another one. She is very busy and leaves you with local school teacher Amadou, who will host you during your stay and act as your interpreter. 

The local chief, farmers, and their families are very excited to see you and you are taken aback by the lavish food, dancing, and reception that they have laid on especially for you. You exchange social media contacts with Amadou, who you understand has been instrumental in winning this contract. You get excited about working with Amadou on this project and the prospect of improving the livelihoods of the locals with better access to clean water. 

After some hours you get shown some of the existing pumping equipment, but you don’t recognise it and it has obviously been left idle for some time and looks to be in a poor state. The farmers appear confused and are surprised that you aren’t familiar with the pumps. They explain that the equipment is from China and was working well for many years. They understand how it operates and have even managed to repair some of the fittings in local workshops, but there are now key parts they have been waiting many months for and they assume that you have brought them with you. 

You try to explain through Amadou that there has been some misunderstanding and that you don’t have the spares but will be quoting for replacement equipment from your company in the UK. This is not what the farmers want to hear and the mood changes. They have spent many years getting to know this kit and now they can even locally fabricate some of the parts. Why would you change it all now? The farmers start shouting and Amadou takes you to one side and suggests you should respond by offering them something in return. 

What should you offer them? 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What is your initial reaction to the miscommunication? Does it surprise you? What might your initial reaction reveal to you about your own perspectives and values? 

2. Discussion: What is your initial reaction to the reception given to you? Does it surprise you? What might your initial reaction reveal to you about your own perspectives and values? 

3. Activity: Technical integration – undertake an electrical engineering technical activity related to water pumps and their power consumption against flow rates and heads. 

4. Discussion and activity: List the potential benefits and risks to implementing water pump technology compared to traditional methods of water collection. Are these benefits and risks the same no matter which country they are implemented in? 

5. Activity: Research water pumping in developing countries. What are the main technical and logistical issues with this technology? Are there any cultural issues to consider?  

6. Activity: This activity is related to optional pre-readings on environmental ethics. Consider how your perspective is related to the following environmental values, and pair/share or debate with a peer. 

 

Dilemma – Part two: 

You reluctantly backtrack a little on what you said earlier and convince Amadou and the farmers that you will be able to sort something out. Back in Accra at the local trade show, you manage to source only a few spares as a quick fix since you had to pay for them yourself without your colleague noticing. The aid representative agrees to take them up country next time she travels. 

You arrive back in the UK and begin to prepare the JCD bid. You are aware that the equipment from your company is very different to the Chinese kit that the farmers already have. It is designed to run on a different voltage and uses different pipe gauges throughout for the actual water pumping. The locally fabricated spares will definitely not connect to the JCD components you will be specifying. 

You voice your concerns to your manager about the local situation but your manager insists that it is not your problem and the bid will not win if it is not competitive. Sales in your department are not good at the moment, and after all you are a new employee on probation and you want to make a good first impression. 

Having further investigated some comments Amadou made on the trip, you discover that the water table has dropped by several metres in this part of Ghana over the last five years and you realise that the equipment originally quoted for might not even be up to the job! 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Should you disclose these newly discovered concerns about the water table height or keep quiet? 

2. Discussion: Do you continue to submit the bid for equipment that you know may be totally inappropriate? Why, or why not? 

3. Activity: Role-play a conversation between the engineer and the JCD manager about the issues that have been discovered. 

4. Discussion and activity: Research levels of the water table in West Africa and how they have changed over the last 50 years. Is there a link here to climate change? What other factors may be involved? 

5. Discussion: Environmental ethics deals with assumptions that are often unstated, such as the obligation to future generations. Some people find that our obligation is greater to people who exist at this moment than to those that don’t yet exist. Do you agree or disagree with this position? Why? Can we maintain an obligation to future generations while simultaneously saying that this must be weighed against the obligations in the here and now? 

6. Activity: Both cost-benefit and value trade-off analyses are valuable approaches to consider in this case. Determine the possible courses of action and undertake both types of analysis for each position by considering both short- and long-term consequences. (Use the Mapping actors and processes article to help with this activity.) 

7. Activity: Using reasoning and evidence, create arguments for choosing one of the possible courses of action. 

8. Activity: Use heuristics to analyse possible courses of action. One heuristic is the Environmental ethics decision making guide. Another is the 7-step guide to ethical decision-making. 

  

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Case enhancement: Developing an internet constellation

Activity: Anatomy of an internet satellite.

Author: Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part two section. It is based on the work done by Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler and published by the SHARE Lab of the SHARE Foundation and the AI Now Institute of New York University, which investigates the “anatomy” of an Amazon Echo device in order to “understand and govern the technical infrastructures” of complex devices. Educators should review the Anatomy of an AI website to see the map and the complementary discussion in order to prepare and to get further ideas. This activity is fundamentally focused on developing systems thinking, a competency viewed as essential in sustainability that also has many ethical implications. Systems thinking is also an AHEP outcome (area 6). The activity could also be given a supply chain emphasis.

This could work as either an in-class activity that would likely take an entire hour or more, or it could be a homework assignment or a combination of the two. It could easily be integrated with technical learning. The activity is presented in parts; educators can choose which parts to use or focus on.

 

1. What are the components needed to make an internet satellite functional?:

First, students can be asked to brainstorm what they think the various components of an internet satellite are without using the internet to help them. This can include electrical, mechanical, and computing parts.

Next, students can be asked to brainstorm what resources are needed for a satellite to be launched into orbit. This could include everything from human resources to rocket fuel to the concrete that paves the launch pad. Each of those resources also has inputs, from chemical processing facilities to electricity generation and so forth.

Next, students can be asked to brainstorm what systems are required to keep the internet satellite operational throughout its time in orbit. This can include systems related to the internet itself, but also things like power and maintenance.

Finally, students can be asked to brainstorm what resources will be needed to manage the satellite’s end of life.

Small groups of students could each be given a whiteboard to make a tether diagram showing how all these components connect, and to try to determine the path dependencies between all of them.

To emphasise ethics explicitly, educators could ask students to imagine where within the tether diagram there could be ethical conflicts or dilemmas and why. Additionally, students could reflect on how changing one part of the system in the satellite would affect other parts of the system.

 

2. How and where are those components made?:

In this portion of the activity, students can research where all the parts of those components and systems come from – including metals, plastics, glass, etc. They should also research how and where the elements making up those parts are made – mines, factories, chemical plants, etc. – and how they are then shipped to where they are assembled and the corresponding inputs/outputs of that process.

Students could make a physical map of the globe to show where the raw materials come from and where they “travel” on their path to becoming a part of the internet satellite system.

To emphasise ethics explicitly, educators could ask students to imagine where within the resources map there could be ethical conflicts or dilemmas and why, and what the sustainability implications are of materials sourcing.

 

3. The anatomy of data:

In this portion of the activity, students can research how the internet provides access to and stores data, and the physical infrastructures required to do so. This includes data centres, fibre optic cables, energy, and human labour. Whereas internet service is often quite localised (for instance, students may be able to see 5G masts or the service vans of their internet service provider), in the case of internet satellites it is very distant and therefore often “invisible”.

To emphasise ethics explicitly, educators could ask students to debate the equity and fairness of spreading the supply and delivery of these systems beyond the area in which they are used. In the case of internet satellites specifically, this includes space and the notion of space as a common resource for all. This relates to other questions and activities presented in the case study.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.


Case enhancement:
Business growth models in engineering industries within an economic system

Activity: Defending a profit-driven business versus a non-profit-driven business.

Author: Dr Sandhya Moise (University of Bath).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part one, Point 4 section of the case: “In a group, split into two sides with one side defending a profit-driven business and the other defending a non-profit driven business. Use Maria’s case in defending your position.” Below are several prompts for discussion questions and activities that can be used. These correspond with the stopping points outlined in the case. Each prompt could take up as little or as much time as the educator wishes, depending on where they want the focus of the discussion to be.

 

Session structure:

1. As pre-class work, the students can be provided the case study in written format.

2. During class, the students will need to be introduced to the following concepts, for which resources are provided below (~20 min):

3. Group activity (15 min +)

4. Whole class discussion/debate (15 min +)

 

Learning resources:

Ethics in Engineering resources:

Professional Codes of Conduct resources:

Corporate Social Responsibility Resources:

ESG Mandate Resources:

In recent years, there have been calls for more corporate responsibility in environmental and socioeconomic ecosystems globally. For example:

In 2017, the economist Kate Raworth set out to reframe GDP growth to a different indicator system that reflects on social and environmental impact. A Moment for Change?

Further reading:

 

Group Activity – Structure:

Split the class into two or more groups. One half of the class is assigned as Group 1 and the other, Group 2. Ask students to use Maria’s case in defending their position.

 

Group activity 1:

Group 1: Defend a profit-driven business model – Aims at catalysing the company’s market and profits by working with big corporations as this will enable quicker adoption of technology as well as economically benefit surrounding industries and society.

Group 2: Defend a non-profit driven business – Aims at preventing the widening of the socioeconomic gap by working with poorly-funded local authorities to help ensure their product gets to the places most in need (opportunities present in Joburg).

 

Pros and Cons of each approach:

Group 1: Defend a profit-driven business model:

Advantages and ethical impact:

Disadvantage and ethical impacts:

Group 2: Defend a non-profit driven business:

Advantages and ethical impact:

Disadvantage and ethical impacts:

 

Relevant ethical codes of conduct examples:

Royal Academy’s Statement of Ethical Principles:

Both of the above statements can be interpreted to mean that engineers have a professional duty to not propagate social inequalities through their technologies/innovations.

 

Discussion and summary:

This case study involves very important questions of profit vs values. Which is a more ethical approach both at first sight and beyond? Both approaches have their own set of advantages and disadvantages both in terms of their business and ethical implications.

If Maria decides to follow a profit-driven approach, she goes against her personal values and beliefs that might cause internal conflict, as well as propagate societal inequalities.

However, a profit-driven model will expand the company’s business, and improve job opportunities in the neighbourhood, which in turn would help the local community. There is also the possibility to establish the new business and subsequently/slowly initiate CSR activities on working with local authorities in Joburg to directly benefit those most in need. However, this would be a delayed measure and there is a possible risk that the CSR plans never unfold.

If Maria decides to follow a non-profit-driven approach, it aligns with her personal values and she might be very proactive in delivering it and taking the company forward. The technology would benefit those in most need. It might improve the reputation of the company and increase loyalty of its employees who align with these values. However, it might have an impact on the company’s profits and slow its growth. This in turn would affect the livelihood of those employed within the company (e.g. job security) and risks.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning

Authors: Prof Lucy Rogers (RAEng Visiting Professor at Brunel University, London and freelance engineering consultant) and Petra Gratton (Associate Dean of Professional Development and Graduate Outcomes in the College of Engineering, Design and Physical Science at Brunel University London, and Lecturer in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering)

Keywords: Industry, Interview, Video, Real Life, Engineers

Abstract: A number of short videos that can be re-used in teaching undergraduate modules in Engineering Business, instead of inviting guest presentations. The interview technique got each individual to talk about their life experiences and topics in engineering business that are often considered mundane (or challenging) for engineers, such as ethics, risks and regulation, project management, innovation, intellectual property, life-cycle assessment, finance and creativity. They also drew attention to their professional development.

 

Project outcomes

The outcomes of this project are a number of short videos that were used, and can be re-used, in teaching delivery of an undergraduate module in Engineering Business in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Brunel University London instead of having guest presentations from invited speakers.  Lucy’s interview technique got the individuals featured in each film to talk about their life experiences and topics in engineering business that are often considered mundane (or challenging) for engineers, such as ethics, risks and regulation, project management, innovation, intellectual property, life-cycle assessment and finance; and drew attention to their professional development. 

The shorter videos were inspirational for students to make videos of themselves as part of the assessment of the module, which required them to carry out a personal professional reflection exercise and report upon what they had learned from the exercise in a simple 90-second video using their smartphone or laptop. 

Having used the videos with Brunel students, Lucy has made them available on her YouTube channel: Dr Lucy Rogers – YouTube. Each of the videos are listed in the following table:

 

Topic Who Video Link
Creativity in Engineering: Your CV Reid Derby https://youtu.be/qQILO4uXJ24
Creativity in Engineering: Your CV Leigh-Ann Russell https://youtu.be/LJLG2SH0CwM
Creativity in Engineering: Your CV Richard Hopkins https://youtu.be/tLQ7lZ3nlvg
Corporate Social Responsibility Alexandra Knight
(Amey Strategic Consulting)
https://youtu.be/N7ojL6id_BI
Ethics and Diversity Alexandra Knight
(Amey Strategic Consulting)
https://youtu.be/Q4MhkLQqWuI
Project Management and Engineers Fiona Neads (Rolls Royce) https://youtu.be/-TZlwk6HuUI
Project Management – Life Cycle Paul Kahn
(Aerospace and Defence Industry)
https://youtu.be/1Z4ZXMLRPt4
Ethics at Work Emily Harford (UKAEA) https://youtu.be/gmBq9FIX6ek
Communication Skills at Work Emily Harford (UKAEA) https://youtu.be/kmgAlyz7OhI
Client Brief Andy Stanford-Clark (IBM) https://youtu.be/WNYhDA317wE
Intellectual Property from Artist’s Point of View Dave Corney
(Artist and Designer)
https://youtu.be/t4pLkletXIs
Intellectual Property Andy Stanford-Clark (IBM) https://youtu.be/L5bO0IdxKyI
Project Management Fiona Neads – Rolls Royce https://youtu.be/XzgS5SJhiA0

 

Lessons learned and reflections

We learned that students generally engaged with the videos that were used.  Depending which virtual learning environment (VLE) was being used, using pre-recorded videos in synchronous online lectures presents various challenges.  To avoid any unplanned glitches, in future we know to use the pre-recorded videos as part of the teaching-delivery preparation (e.g. in a flipped classroom mode). 

As part of her legacy, Lucy is going to prepare a set of simple instructions on producing video interviews that can be carried out by both staff and students in future.

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning, Universities’ and businesses’ shared role in regional development, Knowledge exchange, Graduate employability and recruitment

Authors: Prof Simon Barrans (University of Huddersfield), Harvey Kangley (Associated Utility Supplies Ltd), Greg Jones (University of Huddersfield) and Mark Newton (Associated Utility Supplies Ltd)

Keywords: Knowledge Transfer Partnership, Design and Innovation, Student Projects, Railway Infrastructure

Abstract: A six year collaboration between the University of Huddersfield and Associated Utility Supplies Ltd has resulted in one completed and one ongoing KTP project, two successfully completed First of a Kind projects for the rail industry and the development of a new design department in the company. Benefits to the University include, graduate and placement student employment, industrially relevant final year and masters projects and the application of University research. Continued collaboration will generate a case study for the next REF. In this paper we explore the various mechanisms that have been used to facilitate this work.

 

The opportunity

Network Rail felt that their current supply chain was vulnerable with many parts being single source, some from overseas. They addressed this issue by engaging with SMEs who could develop alternative products. A local company, AUS, believed they could tackle this challenge but needed to develop their design and analysis capability. Their collaboration with the University of Huddersfield enabled this.

Seed funded taster projects

In 2016 AUS approached regional development staff at the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre, the University‘s business and innovation centre, with two immediate needs. These were: an explanation as to why a cast iron ball swivel clamp had failed in service, and a feasibility study to determine if a cast iron cable clamp could be replaced with an aluminium equivalent. Both these small projects were funded using the University’s Collaborative Venture Fund, an internal funding scheme to deliver short feasibility projects for industry. This incentivises staff to only engage in collaborations where there is a high expectation of significant external future funding, and which are low risk to an industry partner.

Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) Projects

KTPs are managed by Innovate UK and are one of the few Innovate UK grants that are designed to have a university as the lead organisation. They are particularly attractive to SMEs as Innovate UK funds 67% of the project cost. The costs cover: the employment costs for a graduate, known as the Associate, who typically works full time at the company; an academic supervisor who meets with the Associate for half a day a week; and administrative support. The key measure of success of a KTP project is that it leaves the company generating more profit and hence, paying more tax. Increased employment is also desirable.

The first, three-year KTP project, applied for in January 2017 and started in June 2017, aimed to provide the company with a design and analysis capability. A Mechanical Engineering graduate from Huddersfield was recruited as the Associate and the Solidworks package was introduced to the company. A product development procedure was put in place and a number of new products brought to market. The Associate’s outstanding performance was recognised in the KTP Best of the Best Awards 2020 and he has stayed with the company to lead the Product Innovation team.

The second, two-year KTP project started in November 2020 with the aim of expanding the company’s capability to use FRP materials. Whilst the company had some prior product experience in this area, they were not carrying out structural analysis of the products. FRP is seen as an attractive material for OLE structures as it is non-conductive (hence removing the need for insulators) and reduces mass (compared to steel) which reduces the size of foundations needed.

First of a kind (FOAK) projects

The Innovate UK FOAK scheme provides 100% funding to develop products at a high technology readiness level and bring them to market. They are targeted at particular industry areas and funding calls are opened a month to two months before they close. It is important therefore to be prepared to generate a bid before the call is made. FOAKs can and have been led by universities. In the cases here, the company was the lead as they could assemble the supply chain and route to market. The entire grant went to the company with the university engaged as a sub-contractor.

The first FAOK to support development of a new span-wire clamp was initially applied for in 2019 and was unsuccessful but judged to be fundable. A grant writing agency was employed to rewrite the bid and it was successful the following year. Comparing the two bids, re-emphasis of important points between sections of the application form and emphasising where the bid met the call requirements, appeared to be the biggest change.

The span-wire clamp is part of the head-span shown in figure 1. The proposal was to replace the existing cast iron, 30 component assembly with an aluminium bronze, 14 component equivalent, as shown in figure 2. The FOAK project was successful with the new clamp now approved for deployment by Network Rail.

The University contributed to the project by testing the load capacity of the clamps, assessing geometric tolerances in the cast parts and determining the impact that the new clamp would have on the pantograph-contact wire interface. This latter analysis used previous research work carried out by the University and will be an example to include in a future REF case study.

The second FOAK applied for in 2020 was for the development of a railway footbridge fabricated from pultruded FRP sections. This bid was developed jointly by the University and the company, alongside the resubmission of the span-wire FOAK bid. This bid was successful and the two projects were run in parallel. The footbridge was demonstrated at RailLive 2021.

Additional benefits to University of Huddersfield

In addition to the funding attracted, the collaboration has provided material for two MSc module assignments, six MSc individual projects and 12 undergraduate projects. The country of origin of students undertaking these projects include India, Sudan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Syria and Qatar. A number of these students intend to stay in the UK and their projects should put them in a good position to seek employment in the rail industry. A number of journal and conference papers based on the work are currently being prepared.

 

Figure 1. Head-span showing span-wires and span-wire clamp.

 

Figure 2. Old (left) and new (right) span-wire clamps.

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Let us know what you think of our website