Aecom has produced a graphene arch using additive manufacturing techniques. It believes the method could reduce the time and cost of installing digital signalling systems and transform the digitisation of transport networks.
The company’s CNCTArch is designed to drive down the costs associated with installing digital signalling systems on transport networks. Using a graphene arch that sits over rail tracks eliminates the need to attach new digital equipment to existing infrastructure.
Graphene is famously super-light and super-strong. The 4.5-metre high, lightweight arch is being tested on outdoor track at Network Rail’s workforce development centre in Bristol.
Aecom employees came up with the concept of CNCTArch in response to its transport clients’ challenges around the cost and time of digitising the signalling systems on their networks. The company looked at replacing the traditional bolt and screws method of deploying digital systems in tunnels, which takes four shifts to install, by developing an arch on which the digital technology is attached, that doesn’t bolt to any existing infrastructure and takes only one shift to install. The CNCTArch can be used in both tunnels and open environments and has the potential to transform the deployment of digital traffic management systems, Aecom believes.
Aecom is working with Network Rail’s Western region team and its Bristol Parkway signalling training school to test the arch. Sensors have been installed to monitor how the arch performs in different weather conditions, measuring oscillation and deflection. The six-month trial is the next step towards commercialising the product.
Aecom has partnered with UK engineering firm Scaled to develop the detailed design and prototypes of the CNCTArch using large-scale 3D-printing techniques. Scaled uses its 3D printer, one of the largest in Europe, to print the product in the new graphene-reinforced polymer, which is supplied by Aecom’s materials partner Versarien. A UK-based advanced engineering materials group, Versarien has developed and manufactures the graphene material for CNCTArch.
Mark Southwell, Aecom managing director – civil infrastructure UK & Ireland, said: “With many of our global transport clients facing capacity and performance pressures, they are looking for cheaper, faster and safer ways to modernise their networks. Aecom’s CNCTArch is a great example of how our people are innovating to find solutions in response to specific client challenges. Finding new ways to drive the greatest efficiencies and minimise disruptions for passengers are key as our clients look to digitise their networks.
“Working with SMEs, we’re using the very latest 3D-printing techniques and graphene materials to develop our product. Installing the arch on the outdoor track and working with Network Rail to test its performance is an important step towards gaining product acceptance and bringing the CNCTArch to market.”
Network Rail principal signalling engineer Matthew Lupton added: “In partnership with industry, we look at how research, development and technology can make train travel more comfortable, accessible, reliable and affordable. Network Rail actively encourages and works with suppliers and stakeholders to increase innovation, creativity and to reduce costs. We support a number of companies who are developing great new ideas that will ultimately deliver a better service for passengers.”
Versarien chief executive Neill Ricketts said: "We are delighted that our collaboration with Aecom has progressed as we had anticipated. This application has significant potential for Versarien, as the volumes of graphene that are required in these types of structure are significantly larger than for many other applications given the scale of the structures being produced."