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22 August, 2021 - 00:07 By Tony Quested

Marshall cherishes collaboration with University engineering excellence

Ties between Marshall of Cambridge and the University run deep. The company was started by David Marshall on October 1, 1909 providing chauffeur-hire transport for wealthy dons and undergraduates who were mainly patrons of the University Pitt Club, of which he was a steward.

Sir Michael Marshall, who worked his way up to become CEO and then chairman of the business, was for decades a staunch supporter of the University and the excellent research it spun out into the wider world.

Having rowed for Cambridge in the 1954 Boat Race, Sir Michael was a Blue with a view, never doubting the importance of the university in terms of promoting Cambridge science and technology to the wider world and acting as a passionate evangelist for the cause.

The Marshall group of companies continues to work with the University across a range of disciplines based on their engineering synergies and kindred commitment to excellence.

Marshall’s head of technology acquisition Dr Nikita Sinha is carrying the baton in terms of matching the group‘s innovation to cutting edge University excellence.

She tells Business Weekly: “We currently have a number of exciting research projects ongoing with the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge across a range of emerging technologies.

“As a business Marshall benefits massively from the new and innovative thinking that the team from the Engineering Department delivers and I know that the students really benefit from the opportunity to have ‘hands-on’ experience helping us solve some complex ‘real world’ challenges.

“It is a relationship that continues to deliver significant value to our business and supports the development of the next generation of new Marshall products and services.”

The company has already concluded collaborative work with Cambridge University on several projects since 2019 including automation of fuel tank inspections, standardisation of design & manufacturing methods for army infrastructure and future power solutions using sustainable and renewable energy sources.

The company has  been working in close collaboration with research students at the University of Cambridge Engineering Department, the Institute for Manufacturing and the Whittle Laboratory.

The first project to come under joint industry/academia tie-up was the auxiliary fuel tank system for Boeing’s P8 Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA).

Marshall ADG design engineers worked with Boeing at the design and development stage to develop an auxiliary tank system that gave the aircraft the ability to fly longer and further by increasing the its fuel capacity and efficiency.

The fuel tank system had to be lightweight, while meeting stringent strength and safety standards. It also had to leave as much flexibility as possible for the integration of other critical equipment.

Marshall ADG uses proprietary and pre-approved honeycomb technology that has been developed to meet the latest civil and military airworthiness regulations and has so far produced more than 700 tanks.

However, the company identified ways to make further enhancements to the manufacturing process, in particular to reduce the number of parts needed in the assembly process.

“We knew exactly what we wanted to achieve and a pretty good idea of how to do it, but we kept hitting a road block,” said Engineering Manager, Jonathan Burnip.

“We came up with an idea for a bonded corner joint for the fuel tank, which we knew would make significant savings, including a 50 per cent reduction in parts count, but we just couldn’t get the bonding to work as well as we wanted and needed it to.

“There are times when those working on a project are simply too close to it to see the full picture and that’s where we thought an external, fresh pair of eyes, with no preconceived ideas would pay dividends.”

Jonathan’s conundrum provided the perfect project for a fourth year Mechanical Engineering student and a plan was devised to fit within the student’s academic year and final year research for his Masters in Engineering degree.

The student worked in conjunction with Jonathan and his team, firstly to analyse the issues of the bonded corner joint.

“The initial analysis was a crucial part of the project, as it laid the foundation for everything that followed,” said Jonathan.

“Working with the university gave us the opportunity to simply hand it over, confident in the knowledge that they would cover all the bases, and that we could all support him to achieve what we all set out for.”

Marshall ADG gave the student access to its manufacturing facilities at its Cambridge base, as well as all the necessary materials and consultancy time while the university provided research facilities and supported him academically.

Once all the data was collected and analysed, which was largely computer-based, the student created simulation scenarios to scope out all the options, which could then be tested.

The auxiliary fuel tank’s bonded corner joint project began in September 2019 and concluded in May 2020 with the final write up of the findings, which formed an academic end of studies thesis leading to the award of the degree in mechanical engineering.

Early initial success of this project led the company to create a more formal collaborative mechanism via Dr Sinha.

Dr Sinha maintains an ideas funnel where anyone within the business can put forward an idea to be captured and evaluated. The best are subsequently channelled, working logically to an efficient conclusion, with the possibility of going into production.

“Our partnership with the university is very valuable to us,” said Dr Sinha. “Marshall ADG has always been open to change and constantly strives for improvement, so having bright, forward-thinking minds in our camp can only ever make a positive contribution to our business objectives.

“We are also delighted to help support future generations of engineers, especially those within our own local community. That has always been a fundamental part of the Marshall legacy.”

• PHOTOGRAPH: Marshall’s head of technology acquisition Dr Nikita Sinha

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