Dear Colleagues

Don’t forget - we have a complimentary presentation on Transformer Failure in two weeks time. Details at the end of this newsletter.

As engineering professionals, we are surely closer to the driverless car than the paperless toilet

There is an old jibe amongst pilots regarding the basic requirements for flying a modern plane: The answer is a computer, a pilot and a dog. The computer flies the plane; the pilot’s sole task is to feed the dog and the dog’s job is to bite the pilot if he tries to touch anything. This is a fairly cynical attitude, yet most long haul flights are handled by auto pilot. I am a little twitchy about these modern planes, though, especially after the A330 which broke up over the Atlantic a few weeks ago; seemingly the computers (and presumably the pilots) were bamboozled by erroneous speed readings due to iced up pitot tubes. Most instrument engineers will sigh when they read this; as they would have been exposed to similar situations in plants of every description. But naturally, we must wait for the full airline disaster story before settling on this explanation.

Interestingly enough autopilots have been around since 1912. The modern autopilots still use the old Intel 80386 processor from 25 years ago (remember DOS and no odd operating system crashes). Trains are also highly automated (they only move backwards and forwards at the right speed and watch for red lights) without drivers - and people are comfortable with this. You only need to look at the London Dockyard trains, various world city monorails and the Malaysian Airport to see this in evidence.

What is mystifying, however, is the series of accidents with driver- led trains; this week, in the US, one drove into the back of another, and collisions at point crossings are not very rare.

But the big prize - to automate the car - has two obstacles; technical – obviously - and a harder one – psychological. Roads are enormously complex places compared with railway systems and the relatively empty skies in which planes fly (and then when landing they have massively human controlled airports and pilots on hand). Already the car is a massively digital and computerised animal with over 200 on-board sensors. The high end one possesses over 70 microprocessors and even the lowly Tata Nano has a dozen. Satnav is a key part of many drivers’ daily lives - allowing them to get around cheaply with satellite navigation in strange locations. Internet connectivity is achieved with smart phones allowing all sorts of interesting information to be gathered (such as real time traffic information and indeed even the location of speed traps). As we all know from personal experience; a driverless car has to deal with a myriad of issues – unexpected objects in the road, giving way to emergency vehicles; other accidents; drunken pedestrians; sudden road diversions.

But the payback could be enormous – a machine can react far more quickly than a human to a hazardous situation. And if the cars on the road could “chat” to each other via wireless they could minimise traffic jams and dangerous overtaking. As far back as 1994, a driverless car drove through the manic traffic-infested streets of Paris at speeds up to 120km/h for over 1000 kms. So the technology is almost here. Several cars (Mercedes and Volvo) will now brake automatically if they detect an imminent collision. And the Lexus (from Toyota) does its own parallel parking.

What to do:

• Read up on this new technology and talk about it with your peers

• Look for the business opportunities unfolding here – whether you are mechanical, electrical, IT or electronically oriented - with millions of cars on the road the re-engineering required is wide ranging and the huge opportunities evident

• Apply these new proven automobile technologies to your next project

• Ensure that whatever is done; all cars and support gear are super safe

• Think of the Law of Unintended Consequences and figure out unexpected results which may need to be dealt with – either from an opportunity or safety point of view

We engineers can improve on this safety zenith I am sure - a humorous remark by Dudley Moore: The best car safety device is a rear-view mirror with a cop in it.

Thanks to the Economist for references in writing this.

Case Studies of Transformer Failures

Listen in, ask questions or join in on our discussion during this free interactive webinar on Wednesday July 1st. It is to be presented by Dr Jerry Walker. During the 45 minute webinar we will review case studies of transformer failure, including; off circuit tap changer failure, sulphur contamination, and extreme conditions. We will summarise common reasons for failure by occurrence and severity, then look at preventive measures.

Yours in

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