Research into engine technologies has resulted in a major new partnership with the UK arm of engineering multinational BorgWarner, leading to the company increasing research and development (R&D) capabilities in the UK. This collaboration, funded partly by parent company BorgWarner US and partly by the government's Regional Growth Fund, involves multi-million-pound investment, as well as significant job creation and safeguarding.

What was the problem?

It has been estimated that 80% of automotive power-plants will be turbocharged by the end of the decade. One of the drivers of this trend is the downsizing of internal combustion engines to improve efficiency and reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Since 2007, in tandem with an investment of more than £3.5m in equipment and facilities to underpin its automotive research, the University of Huddersfield has carried out a wide range of studies relevant to this highly significant shift.

Benefits of this research

A recent Automotive Council report stressed the need to link research carried out by UK universities to Tier 1 suppliers in the automotive industry. It also highlighted a shortage of highly skilled engineers with knowledge and expertise in boosting systems. University of Huddersfield research has helped address such concerns by providing the basis for a major R&D and training collaboration with the UK arm of a multinational engineering company.

This research was a key factor in BorgWarner securing a substantial contract with Jaguar Land Rover, whose decision was informed by the University of Huddersfield’s capacity to help BorgWarner further its R&D activities and upskill its workforce for the benefit of the UK automotive supply chain and the local and national economy.

What did we do?

In 2007 Professor Andrew Ball and Dr Fengshou Gu joined Huddersfield, having worked in diagnostic engineering for many years. Their research expertise complemented that of established staff, including Professor Rakesh Mishra. The skillset for studies into the R&D challenges facing the turbocharger industry was further enhanced by the incorporation in 2011 of expertise in neutron scattering and imaging for the development of novel materials for engine systems. As a result, the University was able to carry out research in areas such as efficiency, emissions, operating temperatures, exhaust gas recirculation, boost pressures, coolants, fuel types, advanced materials and component reliability and wear.

In late 2007 and early 2008 Gu and Ball conducted studies into early fault detection and diagnosis for medium-speed Diesel engines. This work was led by Ball and carried out in collaboration with the University of Manchester. It demonstrated for the first time how subtle variations and anomalies in key combustion performance parameters (e.g. position of peak pressure and heat release rate) could be determined in real time and on a cylinder-by-cylinder basis from the instantaneous angular speed fluctuations of the crank shaft when operating across the breadth of its design envelope.

Between 2008 and 2010, partly in collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Hertfordshire, research into acoustic monitoring was carried out under the direction of Ball. This led to significant advances in the application of real-time airborne acoustic monitoring to the fuel-injection systems of Diesel engines. The first strand of research pioneered the concept of fuel-injection timing estimation from airborne acoustic data and suggested how the use of adaptive filtering techniques could enable this, while the second demonstrated how such a capability could be extended and refined through the use of independent component analysis to quantify key injection parameters (e.g. moment of first needle retraction movement, moment of first fully open position, moment of first return to seat) to a high degree of accuracy.

Another area of research, conducted at Huddersfield from 2007 to 2009, focused on the issue of wear. Studies by Gu and Ball provided a theoretical basis for the correlation of sliding friction and surface-borne acoustic emissions, based on the elastic asperity contact of materials. The model developed a means of estimating asperity load contact from monitored acoustic emissions, so enabling assessment of the effectiveness of lubrication in extreme engineering environments such as turbocharger bearings and rotor seals.

Research into biofuels was carried out in 2009 and 2010, led jointly by Ball and Mishra and undertaken with Gu, Dr Nicolas Powles and Dr Belachew Tesfa. This work explored the implications of various biodiesel formulations, along with the possibility of supplementary water injection, on the fuel-injection characteristics, combustion efficiency and emissions behaviour of a Diesel engine. These studies provided novel insights into how biofuels might best be formulated, blended and used in turbocharged compression ignition engines.

In 2011 BorgWarner Turbo Systems sought a university partner able to deliver both collaborative R&D capability and bespoke postgraduate training. Representatives met with a number of HEIs to ascertain the research capabilities that could underpin the company's development of next-generation systems. The process included a series of meetings with Huddersfield, which had an existing relationship with BorgWarner through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, to discuss the company's proprietary R&D requirements. The breadth of Huddersfield's research in automotive engineering, as exemplified by the work of Ball, Gu, Mishra et al, proved pivotal to BorgWarner's decision, and a strategic partnership was officially established in 2012.

What happened next?

The agreement led to the securing of millions of pounds in regional funding. During the negotiation process the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) announced a call for Regional Growth Fund (RGF) applications, presenting an opportunity to drive inward investment from the company's parent firm, BorgWarner US — which has an annual turnover of around $7bn — to expand turbocharger R&D capability within the UK. Huddersfield partnered BorgWarner in an application that committed to the establishment of new R&D facilities alongside the company's existing factory in Bradford, the development of bespoke training for the next generation of turbocharger engineers and, most importantly, job creation and inward investment. The five-year project is valued at £7.6m, with £2.3m from DBIS and the majority from BorgWarner US. The success of the bid was first confirmed in October 2012, with full details announced in May 2013.

The partnership with Huddersfield, in tandem with the successful securing of RGF funding, was also a key factor in a decision by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) to award a major contract to BorgWarner Turbo Systems. This brought further investment to the region and was also fundamental to JLR's commitment to strengthening the UK economy as a whole. These significant industry investments in and commitments to the region have helped raise awareness of its nascent role as a key location in the automotive supply chain.