Research Council ‘Sandpits’

Sandpits are an increasingly popular choice for the distribution of Research funding by RCUK. I have just been part of an EPSRC evaluation exercise on Sandpits, so I thought I would dig some photos out of the archive and give an idea of what goes on, which I hope is helpful to those unfamiliar to this process.

PIC1: Participants at the 'Low Carbon Airports' Sandpit putting together the mind map at the end of day 1

I’ll deal with the application process in another blog, as it requires a different approach to conventional grant applications. My experience is with EPSRC sandpits, which are held in country hotels with large function facilities.

PIC1 illustrates the state of play towards the end of day 1 of the EPSRC ‘LowCarbon Airports’ Sandpit which was held towards the end of 2008. At this point, we had checked in, completed some ice-breakers, and in groups had started to brainstorm the issues associated with the theme. The yellow cards on the floor are the outputs of this process which are now being moved around and coalescing into challenges (PIC2).


PIC2: Part of the mind map relating to environmental issues

The process is one of the most intensive and tiring experiences. Starting at 9.00, the activities run generally until 18.00, however that’s when the hard work really starts, with clusters working long into the night. Actually in some cases, all night!.

Be prepared to do a lot of presenting! The ideas, as they coalesce are repeatedly presented by their champions and honed by criticism (both positive and negative) from the floor. It’s at these points that clear projects and project groupings start to emerge (PIC3).

Who’s there?

PIC3: A project definition and grouping starting to emerge at the Sandpit

There are generally three groups of attendees:

Academics who are the focus of the Sandpit

Facilitators – a professional team which runs the Sandpit and guides the process through its stages to fruition

Stakeholders – Industry and commercial interest groups are represented to maintain the applicability of the outcomes

Interestingly, in the background of PIC3 is a poster which I put up with points which are highly salient golden rules for Sandpit participants on all sides:

Stakeholders – ‘suspend disbelief’ in impracticalities

Issues – problems rather than solutions

Academics – ‘forget’ initial preferences and objectives – think outside the box

PIC4: L-R Prof Qing-Chang Zhong, Prof Edmund Burke and Prof Paul Stewart present on 'Integrating and Automating Airport Operations' which was successfully funded

All of which is intended to facilitate the creative process. By day 3, a number of projects have started to emerge, with a core set of champions, loose ‘memberships’ and plenty of ‘floating voters’. Essentially, there is a fixed budget for each sandpit, and open competition for funding, so the process is both collaborative and highly competitive. In this case, there was a budget of £3.4M, with 10 strong contenders emerging….

Roger Gardner, Sandpit Director and Director of the Omega Partnership addresses a project presentation session

Now the strategic ‘haggling’ between individuals and groups begins, as the competition increases to produce credible,fundable projects, and also to maximise individual involvement. A word of caution here is credibility. There is no difference between this part of the process and any other proposal procedure. Not only is a well thought out project plan with credible partnerships an absolute necessity, but also the crucial aspects of adventure, risk and most importantly ‘risk mitigation strategies’.

Unique to this process is that funding is allocated on the final day of the Sandpit, so all potential projects must be fully costed, with finalised members, objectives and project plans.

Prof Paul Stewart presenting the costed version of 'Airport Energy Technologies Network' which was successfully funded

There is no limit to the number of projects which you can propose, or the number of projects in which you can be involved. However there is generally a strong steer from the Stakeholders as to the preferred projects and groupings as they develop. Finally, the projects are ranked in preferential order, and a steer is given as to what adjustments need to be made to costings on the individual projects.

Roger Gardner, Sandpit director, giving out the good and bad news

In this Sandpit, 10 projects were proposed, with 7 being funded to a total of £3.4M. Three of the projects are currently running here at the University of Lincoln in the School of Engineering.

Most importantly, 19 out of the 22 participants came away with something to show for all the effort, ranging from studentships up to PI of large multi-centre projects.

Winners and losers: 7 successful and 3 unsuccessful proposals

All in all a very positive experience on the whole. In particular, the sandpit sparked multi-disciplinary, inter university collaboration which has acted as gearing for subsequent collaborative projects. all that’s left to do after the event is to make sure you get your full proposal in through the JeS system in time!

You can find out more about the funded projects via the Airport Energy Technologies Network (AETN) which is hosted in the School of Engineering at the University of Lincoln:

Airport Energy Technologies Network (AETN) LInk

Best paper prize for School of Engineering academics

Institution of Mechanical Engineers headquarters London

Prof Paul Stewart and Dr Jill Stewart from the School of Engineering in collaboration with Dr Dan Gladwin from the University of Sheffield have been awarded the Charles Sharpe Beecher Prize by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for their 2010 paper

Multi-objective evolutionary–fuzzy augmented flight control for an F16 aircraft. Proceedings of the IMechE, Part G: Journal of Aerospace Engineering, 224 (3). pp. 293-309. ISSN 0954-4100

The prize is awarded for the best paper on an aerospace subject published by the Institution in the previous year.

The paper examines the application of Artificial Intelligence techniques to the flight control system of the Lockheed Martin F16 Fighting Falcon. In particular, the modified controller aims to enhance the performance of the flight controller to reduce pilot fatigue during extended combat flight manoeuvres.

The F-16 is a single-engined, supersonic, multi-role tactical aircraft. The F-16 was designed to be a cost-effective combat “workhorse” that can perform various kinds of missions and maintain around-the-clock readiness. It is much smaller and lighter than its predecessors, but uses advanced aerodynamics and avionics, including the first use of a relaxed static stability/fly-by-wire (RSS/FBW) flight control system, to achieve enhanced maneuver performance. Highly nimble, the F-16 can pull 9-g maneuvers and can reach a maximum speed of over Mach 2.

The Prize will be awarded at the Annual General Meeting and Awards Ceremony at the IMechE London headquarters on 17th May 2011

Engineering School facilitates major equipment grant from Lincoln Council to aid local businesses

EOS P380 Rapid Prototyping Machine

Lincoln City Council has secured approval to purchase a Rapid Manufacturing Machine in order to establish a facility which is accessible to local businesses as part of a commitment to promote and encourage the growth of engineering and innovation activity in the local economy.

The School of Engineering is fully committed to this initiative, which is part of its engagement process with local industry and a long term close collaborative relationship with the City Council.

Dr Jonathan Lawrence, who is Reader and Head of the  Laser Materials Processing Group in the School, has sourced a machine in China, and will be travelling out to Shanghai in the near future to perform a technical verification before the unit is shipped to Lincoln.

The School will be working closely with the Council to promote the usage of the facility, and will be subsequently working with local businesses to fully utilise it.

The EOS P380 machine uses a high-powered laser, which fuses metal powder into a solid part by melting it locally using the focused laser beam. Parts are built up additively layer by layer. This process allows for highly complex geometries to be created directly from the 3D CAD data, fully automatically, in hours and without any tooling, producing parts with high accuracy and detail resolution, good surface quality and excellent mechanical properties.

Advanced Airship Research Project at the University of Lincoln

MAAT Multi-body Advanced Airship for Transportation project logo

Lincoln School of Engineering is part of a global consortium which will be kicking off an EU Framework 7 Programme Collaborative Project in September 2011.

The project is MAAT Multibody Advanced Airship for Transport, and is led by Professor Antonio Dumas at the University of Modena, Italy.

Principal Investigator at the University of Lincoln is Prof. Paul Stewart, and Co-Investigator is Prof. Chris Bingham, both of the School of Engineering.

Project Members

  • Universita di Modena e Reggio Emilia, Italy
  • Universidade da Beria Interior, Portugal
  • Logistics Network Consultants GmbH, Germany
  • University of Hertfordshire, UK
  • Southern Federal University, Russian Federation
  • ENGSYS Ltd., UK
  • University of Lincoln, UK
  • Universita di Bologna, Italy
  • Universite di Torino, Italy
  • Esponential Design Lab, Uruguay
Proton Energy and Sanswire High Altitude Commercial Rigid Airships

The MAAT project overcomes structural and physical limits of airplanes in cruiser/feeder operation. It aims to investigate an airship cruiser-feeder global transport system for medium and long range transports.

The MAAT system is composed by three modules.

  1. PTAH (Photovoltaic Transport Airship for High-altitudes) is a heavy payload cruiser which remains airborne on stable routes;
  2. ATEN (Air Transport Efficient Network feeder) is aVTOL feeder airship by gas buoyancy linking the cruiser to the ground;
  3. AHA (Airship Hub Airport) is a new concept of low cost vertical airport hub joinable by ATEN, easy to build both in towns and in logistic centres.

The strengths of the MAAT concept are:

  • standardized and modular global air transport system;
  • operative altitudes higher than traditional civil routes;
  • heavy payload, low cost of transportation and non-stop flight;
  • possibility to act as a flying integrated logistics centre;
  • self sufficient by photovoltaic propelling system;
  • increased safety to prevent crashes and long evacuation times;
  • hovering ability to simplify cruiser/feeder engagement;
  • cruiser/feeder transfers in motion;
  • VTOL ground operations;
  • silent landing and take-off operations;
  • cost effective, light and easy to deploy structures on the ground;
  • reduced fuel consumption and carbon emissions

The MAAT Project aims to study the system and its components in a full structured systemic approach and to define:

  1. the general design of cruiser and feeder, to optimize aerodynamics and photovoltaic energy;
  2. the preliminary structural draft of cruiser, feeder and hub;
  3. control systems, procedures and codes for stability and flying attitude control;
  4. electrical propulsion systems able to overcome the problems related to the low air density;
  5. operative procedures for rendezvous and joining operations;
  6. internal design of cabins and cargo;
  7. study and design of cruiser/feeder connections;
  8. passive and active safety systems.