Governments and industries worldwide face an annual bill of many billions of pounds resulting from general mechanical failures, some caused by natural disasters such as earthquakes.
The Bristol Laboratory for Advanced Dynamic Engineering (BLADE) is a new academic concept, integrating world-class expertise and analytical and experimental techniques. The lab has been set up with a £15m grant from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Office for Science and Technology (OST) and the Joint Infrastructure Fund (JIF).
Because BLADE has received the
BLADE has six laboratories, including an earthquake and large structures lab containing a 15m strong wall and a 3m x 3m shaking table (the only one in a
Prof Colin Taylor, an earthquake engineer and head of BLADE, said the facility was not just a research centre, but a way of thinking — looking at performance-based engineering and considering realistic in-service dynamic loads and the response of various systems to their non-linear failure limit.
‘Civil, aerospace, electrical and mechanical engineering — those are the core areas we have in BLADE,’ he said. ‘But we are reaching outside the faculty to physicists, chemists and so on. We found that with particular projects, we could only do it because we had the right package of people to say we can do this. That is unlikely to have happened pre-BLADE.’
BLADE’s multi-disciplinary approach has been so successful that the facility has secured projects and collaborative interest from the likes of Airbus, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems — and could now become a model for other academic establishments.
‘I am sure other universities would be interested in what we are doing,’ said
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than through an EPSRC-funded project — with industrial support from construction company KBR and Scottish and Southern Energy — on the strengthening of a dam’s reservoir intake towers with fibre-composite materials. According to
BLADE’s research will involve constructing large-scale 4m-high models and subjecting them to simulated earthquake forces on the lab’s shaking table. ‘We will measure force deflection characteristics and understand how they start to crack, and develop numerical models which simulate that, and then use this model to explore the seismic dynamics of different types of tower,’ said Taylor. From the research, he will eventually be able to characterise the towers’ behaviour, model it accurately and recommend strengthening solutions.
Illustrating the way in which BLADE projects are expected to cross-fertilise, Taylor’s proposed solution draws on work carried out by a BLADE team on a separate EU-funded project looking into composite structures. That project, Less Loss, involves 43 partners across
Another application of composite technology is being tested in BLADE’s heavy and light materials lab, where Dr Ian Bond is using an EPSRC advanced fellowship grant to research the use of composite dye-releasing technology to reveal faults in aircraft wings.
The second aspect of the Less Loss project — fundamental modelling — concerns the overall performance of systems and looks at the way that, for example, water and electricity supplies are affected by an earthquake. This is one area of research that needs close attention, says
An illustration of this was the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan, where 5,000 people were killed but economic losses were close to $150bn (£78bn) because of a failure in basic industry infrastructure. Similarly, in the earthquake at
Elsewhere at BLADE, much of the work in the heavy and light testing laboratory is focused on using fibre-reinforced composites and advanced alloys to improve the structural strength of bridges. According to
The dynamics lab is carrying out research for Westland Helicopters on the dynamic interaction between the rotor blade and the rotor hub, and the dynamics of the hull. Tests on full-sized components are combined with computer simulations in a hybrid testing method known as dynamic substructuring.
The same approach will be used for a three-year multi-disciplinary project to analyse the cable allowance of cable-stayed bridges.
So far, BLADE seems to be doing just that.