Working with other teams and individuals is one of the most vital aspects of engineering, allowing teams to achieve far more than they could ever do alone. Not only can projects be completed faster and cheaper when working together, but pooling and knowledge and expertise can act as a key driver for innovation.

At the Royal Academy of Engineering, an Industrial Fellowship scheme gives researchers the opportunity to do just that. Joining forces with industrial partners, academics from across the field of engineering can undertake their own collaborative research projects in an industrial environment.  

As well as strengthening the bonds between academia and industry, the scheme fosters the transfer of knowledge between both parties. In addition, fellowships give researchers first-hand experience of current industrial practices, improving the quality and relevance of their teaching back at university.

The scheme sees awardees placed in industry full time for six months, or part time for up to a year, and contributes up to £30,000 towards salary cost for time spent with industry hosts.

Car-jacking goes digital

Dr Siraj Ahmed Shaikh, a Reader in Cyber Security at the Centre for Mobility and Transport at Coventry University, was awarded an industrial fellowship in 2015. Working alongside vehicle engineering and design company, HORIBA MIRA, Dr Shaikh set out to explore cybersecurity for motor vehicles.

The project saw him working with the team at HORIBA MIRA developing automated tools to evaluate and test potential security issues during the vehicle design stage. They also looked at how to assess these designs for their resilience against deliberate hacking attempts.

With vehicle security, and the criminals who set out to bypass it, becoming ever more sophisticated, protecting against hacking is increasingly important. Teaming up with an industry host allowed Dr Shaikh’s research to grow into a new area, in line with a real-world need. It also gave him a clearer view of how businesses and universities can work together.

“Automotive cybersecurity is a complex challenge,” said Siraj. “The secondment allowed me to work collaboratively on ideas of system design and testing to address the problem, and also understand the business models needed to generate a clear revenue stream.”

The longer term benefits of the secondment continue to provide Dr Shaikh with an informed teaching and research agenda; a wider selection of student dissertation themes; and jointly funded doctoral students.

“HORIBA MIRA has been very open to furthering the dialogue with university colleagues in other areas of automotive and transport research too,” he added.

Scheme helps novel innovation get off the ground

A world away from car hackers and cyber-security, Dr Rafic Ajaj, another Industrial Fellowship awardee, has been testing out a new approach to aeroplane design. A lecturer in aerospace structures at the University of Southampton, Dr Ajaj joined forces with Airbus Operations Limited to explore folding wingtips on transport aircraft.

As a globe-trotting population takes to the skies, demands on passenger aircrafts are increasing. With the novel addition of foldable tips, aircraft could increase their wingspan in flight, while remaining compact on the ground, allowing to fit into current airport gates. The added in-flight efficiencies would also lead to lower fuel consumption and reduce both noise and emissions.

Following Rafic’s time in industry, both parties have received direct benefits. Airbus have filed patents in both the UK and USA for the innovative folding wingtips, while the experience continues to serve both Rafic and his students.

“The experience I gained at Airbus has helped me introduce new real life examples in my ‘mechanics of flight’ module,” said Dr Ajaj. “This will benefit our students and help them visualise the bigger picture and enhance their learning experience.”

Following their collaboration, Airbus is keen to identify further opportunities to work with Dr Ajaj and is supporting him in a Fellowship application to further develop his ideas and build flying prototypes.

Visit the Royal Academy of Engineering to find out more.

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