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Lifeboat project ready for awards splash

RNLI Tamar Class boat entering the water. Copyright RNLI by kind permission of Eleanor Driscoll.

Tribology research is shortlisted for UK Univesity 'Oscars' in Innovation & Technology.

A unique project which brought researchers from Bournemouth University (BU) together with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has been shortlisted for one of the most coveted prizes in UK higher education.

The 2010 Times Higher Education (THE) Award for Outstanding Contribution to Innovation & Technology recognises the achievements of BU Professor Mark Hadfield and his colleagues in the University’s School of Design, Engineering & Computing.

The awards, considered the ‘Oscars’ of UK higher education, will be announced during a gala evening at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on Thursday, 25 November.

Thanks to the University’s expertise in ‘tribology’ – the science of how surfaces in contact interact with each other - the project found a way for the RNLI to improve the sustainability and reliability of its slipways used for launching Tamar Class and Tyne Class lifeboats at a number of locations around the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.. 

The University’s Sustainable Design Research Centre, headed by Professor Hadfield, has an industry-wide reputation for its expertise in tribology and was the ideal place to solve the problems which the RNLI faced involving friction, lubrication and wear on its slipways. The project was supported by Dr Ben Thomas who completed his PhD research as a result of working with the RNLI. Dr Thomas is now a Lecturer at BU in the field of Sustainable Design.

“We are very pleased to be shortlisted for this prestigious award which recognises the application and benefits of our research,” said Professor Hadfield. “We’re also pleased with the attention drawn to our expertise in tribology outside of our own industry. 

“You see tribology every day, perhaps without realising it,” Professor Hadfield continued. “Shoes are a good example as tribology explains how soles get worn down. In the case of the RNLI we came up with new ways to reduce the wear levels on slipways during launch and recovery which has proved very beneficial to the Institute."

The BU research revealed that making a simple change in the geometry of the slipway lining material would drastically reduce its wear rate, making the lining last longer and therefore cut costs and improve reliability.

"We've produced a comprehensive set of guidelines for the RNLI and have taken on other projects for them including one looking at alternative materials used in the slipway lining," Professor Hadfield adds.

“We are delighted that this research has been shortlisted as it’s an excellent example of what combining academic expertise with engineering experience can achieve”’ commented Steve Austen, Head of Engineering Support at the RNLI. “As a charity, the RNLI strives to provide its volunteer crews with the very best lifesaving equipment, while also seeking to reduce costs wherever possible. The findings are extremely valuable to the RNLI as they outline how we can produce more efficient, durable and cost-effective slipways from which to launch and recover our lifeboats.

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