A trio of electrical engineers from a division of Yorkshire-based FKI are £50,000 richer this week after scooping this year’s MacRobert Award.
The team from Whipp and Bourne near Rochdale won the prestigious engineering prize for their design of a gas-filled vacuum recloser, an innovative circuit breaker for overhead power lines.
The GVR enables electricity companies to distribute electricity reliably to remote areas at a reduced cost, as it allows electronic diagnostics and fault-finding to be carried out remotely by satellite or cellular phone. It also contains only one moving part, compared with up to 150 in its nearest rival, and is virtually maintenance-free.
Stephen Lane, Whipp and Bourne’s engineering director, developed the concept during the final year of his degree in electrical and electronic engineering at Trent Polytechnic.
He brought in Alan Shephard, a former colleague from Lane’s time at Brush Switchgear, and Martin Snell, who worked with Lane at GEC Distribution Switchgear.
Developing the GVR has been a strategic departure for Whipp and Bourne. The firm specialised in manufacturing low volume, high value switchgear for military use.
`It took courage on the part of the board of Whip and Bourne and of FKI to go through with this,’ said Snell, chief project engineer. `It was well outside our normal markets, and we really had to push for it.’
The project took 12 months to develop, at a cost of about £250,000. Since its commercial launch at the start of 1996 sales have escalated, and it now accounts for more than 50% of the company’s turnover, and 90% of the UK market. Sales of GVRs in the first quarter of the current financial year amounted to £13m, including sizeable export orders to South America and the Far East.
The MacRobert Award has been running since 1969. Last year’s winner was Rolls-Royce for its Trent aeroengine.