Engineering research centres in Sheffield will address water sector piped infrastructure challenges

The Water sector could benefit from multi-million pounds of investment into three new advanced engineering research centres opened on Thursday 11 October at the University of Sheffield.

Northern Powerhouse Minister, Jake Berry MP, and Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, Dan Jarvis MP, officially opened the centres which aim to boost Sheffield City Region’s reputation as a hub for advanced engineering and industrial digital technologies.

The centres – the Royce Translational Centre (RTC), the Laboratory for Verification and Validation (LVV), and the Integrated Civil and Infrastructure Research Centre (ICAIR) – will work directly with companies to help new technologies get off the ground. An announcement from the university said “the centres will use the transformational power of research to cut costs and lead times which will revolutionise industrial processes.”

ICAIR is described as a uniquely powerful experimental facility for investigating both underground and above ground infrastructure, using data, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing techniques to increase productivity in the design, construction and operation of civil infrastructure.

Given the challenges that water companies face it is clear that new technology and approaches to the inspection, maintenance and repair of our existing piped distribution and drainage networks is needed, said the university.

The UKCRIC National Distributed Water Infrastructure Facility will enable full scale experimentation of water and sewer pipes and ancillary structures to study deterioration and failure mechanisms, in-pipe biological/chemical and physical processes, flooding and corrosion processes and the assessment of asset condition under realistic full-scale environments.

Paul Jeffrey, Director of Research Impact for UKCRIC and Professor of Water Management at Cranfield University, commented: “This new National Distributed Water Infrastructure Facility represents a significant leap forward in our ability to explore the condition of our water distribution and drainage networks.

“By better understanding the processes of deterioration, scientists and engineers can work collaboratively to develop new and innovative inspection and repair techniques. The potential impact, in terms of both the sustainability and cost effectiveness of our water and drainage networks, is enormous – and as yet untapped.”

In an example of a partnership with a local business, ICAIR has worked in partnership with Sheffield’s Environmental Monitoring Solutions (EMS) to manage the increased risk of urban flooding caused by climate change. The artificial intelligence based technology called CENTAUR™ means that sewer flow control systems can be managed at a local level, providing better protection using the same infrastructure.

The three research facilities are housed in a set of custom-designed buildings (pictured, above), creating 3,000 sq.m of high-technology facilities at an investment of £47m part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The site is already home to the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) Factory 2050 – said to be the UK’s first state-of-the-art reconfigurable factory, as well as aerospace giant Boeing’s new fabrication facility. The AMRC works with partners including Boeing, Rolls Royce and Airbus to help improve productivity, de-risk investment decisions, and accelerate the early adoption of industrial digital technologies to improve performance and quality.

The Minister praised the transformative work taking place and how it will allow businesses to gain access to university research expertise and use industrial digital technologies such as AI and robotics.

Professor Mike Hounslow, Vice-President and Head of the Faculty of Engineering, said: “At the University of Sheffield we deliver pioneering interdisciplinary research and find solutions to global challenges. The three centres launched today build on this established expertise and firmly place us as a key partner for industry. The capabilities of the centres will enable us to test and operate on an industrial scale, translating theory into application to improve productivity, cost efficiencies and innovation across a broad range of sectors.”

The advanced engineering centres are part-funded by ERDF, which is administered via the Ministry for Houses, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and UKRI from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), via the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).