Three game-changing technologies recognised by UK’s top innovation prize
Finalists for the 2016 MacRobert Award are revealed by the Royal Academy of Engineering
The Royal Academy of Engineering has today revealed this year’s finalists for the 2016 MacRobert Award, renowned for spotting the ‘next big thing’ in technology since it was established in 1969.
Every year, the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award is presented to the engineers behind the UK’s most exciting engineering innovation. This year’s finalists are: Blatchford for the development of the world’s most intelligent prosthetic limb; Jaguar Land Rover for the world-class innovation behind the company’s decision to design and manufacture its own engines for the first time; and Siemens Magnet Technology for making a step-change in MRI technology that could enable earlier diagnosis of a range of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and improve drug development.
The three finalists are competing for a gold medal and a £50,000 cash prize. The 2016 winner will be revealed at the Academy Awards Dinner at the Tower of London on 23 June, in front of an audience of top engineers and business leaders from some of the UK’s cutting-edge engineering companies.
Many previous MacRobert Award-winning technologies are now ubiquitous in modern technology, transport and healthcare. The very first award went to the Rolls-Royce Pegasus engine, used in the iconic Harrier jets, and in 1972 the judges recognised the extraordinary potential of the first CT scanner – seven years before its inventor Sir Godfrey Hounsfield received the Nobel Prize.
MacRobert Award winners are chosen by a panel of Fellows of the Academy, who deploy the most comprehensive award selection process in the UK engineering sector.
Global leader in prosthetics Blatchford has developed the first ever prosthetic limb with integrated robotic control of the knee and foot; a system in which the parts ‘talk’ to each other so that the limb can adapt automatically to different conditions. Where previously lower leg prosthetics wearers have had to plan their days meticulously according to the limitations of terrain they can tackle, the smart robotics in the Linx Limb system constantly monitor and adapt to the wearer’s movements and the environment, giving users much greater confidence and freedom.
Jaguar Land Rover, the UK’s largest automotive manufacturer, has been nominated in recognition of the world-class innovation behind the company’s decision to design and manufacture its own engines for the first time. Starting with little more than a blank sheet of paper and an empty field, the Jaguar Land Rover team has developed an entire suite of world-leading engines, designed and manufactured in Britain, that combine almost 200 innovative ideas. These engines meet the growing demand for lower fuel consumption and running cost without comprising performance and the driver experience, as well as delivering commercial robustness for the company now and into the future.
Siemens Magnet Technology (SMT) has developed a ground breaking 7 Tesla (7T) magnet that will enable many more people worldwide to access high-resolution MRI scanning. Such high-quality scanning has the potential to provide earlier diagnoses for neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis. The Magnetom Terra could also assist in drug development, and could be used to help develop treatments for early stage diseases and enable monitoring of the efficacy of existing treatments.
Dame Sue Ion DBE FREng, Chair of the MacRobert Award judging panel, said: “It’s often said that Britain doesn’t make anything anymore, but these three companies are proof that the opposite is true, and testament to the world-leading engineering innovation that happens here in the UK. Each of this year’s finalists has taken a different approach to innovation – from sustained incremental improvements to starting from scratch – each resulting in technologies that will have a positive impact on millions of people and bolster the UK economy.
“There is currently a big demand for all aspects of engineering talent, but the pipeline of young people pursuing engineering careers continues to fall short. To meet demand it is vital that we encourage more young people to pursue engineering as a career. Role models and high-profile prizes such as the MacRobert Award are hugely important in showing the opportunities the sector offers.”
Siemens Magnet Technology – Improving access to the gold standard of MRI scanning for earlier diagnosis and drug development
Siemens Magnet Technology (SMT), an Oxfordshire-based subsidiary of Siemens Healthcare UK, has developed a ground breaking 7 Tesla (7T) magnet which is at the heart of the first Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) system suitable for both research and clinical applications. With more than double the field strength of most MRI scanners, the Magnetom Terra enables much higher resolution images. Siemens Healthcare will be seeking FDA and CE approval in the next year and, pending approval, it could help to achieve earlier diagnoses for neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. They can be used to examine almost any part of the body, and the stronger the magnetic field, the higher the resolution of the images produced. The first MRI scanners, developed in the 1970s, had a magnetic field strength of well under 1.0 Tesla. Today, most MRI scanners operate at 1.5 to 3.0 Tesla, and have become an invaluable diagnostic tool, used to help treat billions of patients around the world.
The Siemens ultra-high magnetic field (UHF) 7 Tesla system delivers exquisite image quality to show vascularity of the brain without the need for an injection of contrast media often required at lower field strengths. This allows researchers to identify lesions and bleeds more easily, and the specific areas of the body affected – potentially enabling unprecedented insights into hard-to-diagnose conditions.
The Magnetom Terra could also assist in drug development through improved pre-screening of clinical trial participants to ensure their clinical conditions are similar, enabling more cost efficient drug trials. It could also be used to help develop treatments for early stage diseases and enable monitoring of the efficacy of existing treatments, detecting, for example, whether chemotherapy drugs have penetrated a cancerous tumour.
Achieving such a jump in magnetic field was a huge engineering challenge. A MRI magnet is composed of a number of coils of thin wires carrying a very high current. The move from 3T to 7T required the addition of enough wire to stretch between London and Brussels. These coils then need to be cooled to 4.2 Kelvin (minus 269 Celsius) – the temperature of deep space – to enable the wire to become superconducting and carry enough current to generate a magnetic field 140,000 times that of the Earth’s magnetic field. The magnet is insulated and vacuum-packed, like a thermos flask, to prevent radiation emissions and temperature variation.
SMT’s system is less than half the weight of incumbent technologies and is pre-assembled and cooled at the factory ready for air freighting, unlike conventional ultra-high field MRI scanners, which have to be shipped in parts and assembled and cooled in situ. This saves several weeks and also cuts the helium requirement – a key advantage given the finite helium reserves on earth.
SMT, which employs 420 people at its Oxfordshire site, was able to achieve this step-change in MRI capability by starting from scratch rather than making incremental improvements to existing technologies. By investing heavily in R&D, and probing the absolute physical limits of the technology, the team completely re-invented the superconducting magnet, creating a smaller, lighter, better-integrated structure.
The team invented and patented a number of entirely new technologies that they are now using to improve the cost and accessibility of their mainstream MRI magnets. Just as Formula 1 technology pushes the boundaries of automotive technology but has subsequently ‘pulled up’ mainstream car technology, SMT’s 7T magnet technology has the potential to be deployed across the portfolio. SMT employed next-generation ‘lean engineering’ techniques and redesigned their factory to accommodate the 7T production line, moving 50% of the equipment in six months, with no impact on production of their existing products – whilst also keeping the new project secret. Such smart manufacturing helped them to win the 2015 Best Factory Award.
MacRobert Award judge, Professor David Delpy CBE FREng FRS FMedSci, said: “The Siemens team made a radical change from conventional wisdom in the development of the 7T and have achieved a step change in the manufacturability, reliability, performance and cost of MRI magnets, confirming their role as the world’s leader in this field. The result is a technology with the potential to save millions of lives through improved diagnostics and research techniques.”
Team members: Craig Marshall, Managing Director; Simon Calvert, Head of Product Innovation and Development and Chief Technology Officer; Matthew Longfield, Project Manager; Graham Hutton, Principal Magnet Engineer; John Laister, Head of Manufacturing.
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