Jonathan Newell talks to DATS about applying historic railway technology to the modern age.
Formed out of the ashes of British Railways Engineering in the heartland of UK locomotive building in Derby, Data Acquisition and Testing Services Ltd (DATS) applied the knowledge of its staff in mechanical testing to provide advice and guidance to local industry on the placement of sensors for obtaining meaningful measurements of strain in mechanical structures.
The company’s founder and a former colleague, who set up ABMech, a similar company offering finite element analysis services, remained in close contact and developed their businesses as a symbiotic pairing to provide the whole spectrum of mechanical analysis and testing services. Although the two companies are separate entities, there are a lot of areas of cross-over and they cooperate on many projects, particularly where a customer wants strain to be measured in a structure but doesn’t know where to place the strain gauges, for example. In this case, ABMech becomes involved, performs the FEA and makes recommendations for the testing regime.
Since those early days, the company has grown beyond its initial local reach and has gained a reputation in other areas of the country as well as in other businesses outside the rail industry.
Wide equipment range
The company has a large set of equipment, which has been built up over the years and includes items which have a very narrow scope of use but which enable the company to offer a very wide range of services including experimental work, research and the setting up of specific test regimes.
In addition, the company recently added two vibration test systems, which form part of a wider component testing capability including three load frames capable of handling between 10 and 200kN, a 200Nm and 4kNm torque calibration rig, a 10kN Zwick material testing machine and a T-slot table measuring 3m x 2.5m for component testing.
The main thrust of the company’s work is still the railway industry with other customers being in the military/air structures area as well as automotive, agriculture and other industries where the measurement and analysis of mechanical structures is required. Despite the aerospace industry having a lot of in-house capabilities, it often has to fall back on accredited suppliers to use on an out-sourcing basis for capacity offloading.
The high levels of focus currently placed on hybrid power train engineering for the automotive and road transport technology industry may seem new to many consumers but is part of the heritage of DATS from the last 40-50 years of diesel-electric locomotive production. These are all examples of hybrid power and the industry is very familiar with the concepts. With the company’s knowledge of mechanical structures and hybrid power technology in the railway industry, there is much that they are currently doing for the automotive industry.
I asked Jon Green of DATS where the crossover lies between hybrid power and mechanical testing. He explained that hybrid power isn’t just about electricity generation as there are multiple mechanical considerations to be taken into account and went on to illustrate this using motor placement as an example.
“Placing a motor on each wheel increases the unsprung weight and unravels all of the vehicle handling performance improvements that have been made by reducing unsprung weight over the years. The answer is therefore to place each wheel’s electric motor inboard within the vehicle body and using transmission components to transfer energy to the wheel. This introduces new mechanical dynamics, potential resonances and the requirement for more structural analysis of drive train assemblies,” he explained.
With automotive technology beating a strong path towards electrification, autonomy and improved safety, such mechanical considerations are going to play an increasingly important role for manufacturers.