Wing and transplant tech make RAEng award shortlist

The Royal Academy of Engineering has announced the finalists for the 2019 MacRobert Award – one of the UK’s most prestigious engineering prizes.

Spanning applications ranging from aircraft design to organ transplantation this year’s finalists are an inspiring reminder of the diverse range of disciplines in which engineers operate.

Cast in gold at the Royal Mint, a final inspection is made of the MacRobert Award medal.

Amongst the finalists, Bombardier has been nominated for its development of the resin-infused composite aircraft wing which currently flies on the Airbus A220, minimising the aircraft’s environmental impact by reducing both weight and fuel burn in flight, and waste during manufacture.

This is the only certified commercial aircraft wing designed and produced with resin transfer infusion (RTI) rather than pre-impregnated carbon fibre used on other aircraft programmes. RTI allows for the manufacture of large, one-piece complex structures, reducing the requirement for many different parts and mechanical fasteners, resulting in significant material saving.

Commenting on this innovation, MacRobert Award judge, and former Rolls-Royce technology chief Professor Ric Parker said: “The Belfast-developed resin-infused composite wing epitomises the best in UK mechanical engineering…it is a key enabling technology for the Airbus A220 (previously Bombardier C Series), creating a unique combination of range, fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness for an aircraft in this size range, and justifying its huge forward order book.”

Fellow finalist, Cambridge firm Darktrace, has made the shortlist for its pioneering machine learning cybersecurity technology Antigena, an AI-powered ‘self-healing’ cybersecurity system that can both identify and neutralise cyberattacks.

The system is currently used by over 550 customers including government agencies, international banks, healthcare providers and telecoms operators, responds to a threat every 3 seconds.

Commenting on the technology’s ability to respond to rapidly changing cyber-security environment award judge Professor Nick Jennings said: “The ability to determine a proportionate response in real-time is a significant engineering innovation that extends the frontier of cyber security.”

Another of the finalists, quantum technology specialist M Squared has been nominated for its development of SolsTiS, an advanced laser system that creates continuous-wave, tuneable, precision light for science and industry. Amongst other applications, the technology has been used to calibrate Tropomi, the spectrometer onboard the European Space Agency’s Sentinel 5P satellite which is now able to observe and map critical atmospheric pollutants. It is also being used by healthcare researchers to allow progress in the non-invasive study of cancers and degenerative diseases including dementia, motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s.

The fourth finalist is OrganOX for the development of metra, the first fully automated system for keeping a human donor liver functioning for up to 24 hours outside the body.

The device mimics the environment of the human body by continuously perfusing warm oxygenated blood through the liver at physiological pressures and flows, while also providing nutrition.

The invention breaks with 40 years of traditional organ preservation in ice, doubling the time that donor organs can be preserved prior to transplantation. Through developing the metra, OrganOx has enabled transplanting teams to objectively assess the function of the donor liver before a transplant, something that is impossible with ice storage.

Commenting on this year’s finalists judging panel chair, Dr Dame Sue Ion said: “Our four 2019 finalists represent the pinnacle of an engineering sector that contributes 23% of the UK’s economic turnover, creating jobs and enhancing lives both here in the UK and around the world.”

This year’s winning team – which will receive a £50,000 cash prize – will be announced at the RAEng Awards Dinner at London’s Banqueting House on Thursday 11 July.

The first award in 1969 was made jointly for two iconic innovations: to Rolls-Royce for the Pegasus engine used in the Harrier jump jet, and to Freeman, Fox and Partners for the Severn Bridge. Other winners have included the CT scanner (1972), Raspberry Pi (2017) and the Millennium Dome (1999).