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RA5a: Structure,environment and staffing policy

Structure and Environment: The Mechatronics Research Centre (MRC), which is led by Professor Roberts, was formed in 1994 in an area where the University College had established a reputation for its undergraduate and post-graduate taught courses and for the provision of a wide range of bespoke courses for local industry. In the census period three European Union ADAPT project awards have been received (totalling £1,289,000, £575.559 to UWCN). The MRC is one of five main research groupings within the University College. It is the focus for research activity for the Engineering Department and serves to underpin the taught programmes offered by the Department. Funding is provided centrally to maintain a cohort of full-time Research Students who are accommodated in a dedicated research laboratory, provided with appropriate IT facilities and technical and learning resources support. In May 1996 the quality and high-level of mechatronics activity at UWCN was recognised by the Welsh Development Agency (WDA), resulting in the designation as a WDA Centre of Expertise in Mechatronics. In 1999 the Centre was one of seven, out of a total of thirty-five Centres throughout Wales to receive support from HEFCW and the WDA to employ a Commercial Manager to promote the industrial collaboration capabilities of the Centre. This is having a positive impact on the Centre’s ability to identify industrial partners for new research projects. Recently, ERDF funding has been received to establish a Fieldbus Technology Centre. Total project costs are £273,758 with a grant of £111,803 awarded to UWCN. The centre has attracted support from a number of companies through equipment donations, the main industrial partner being ABB, a global company who are one of the World-leaders in this technology. The grant holder is Dr H Rowlands and a Centre Manager has been appointed.

The MRC has its own Research Committee, chaired by Professor Roberts with membership drawn from staff in the Engineering Department and an elected student representative. This committee meets four times a year and reports to the University College’s Research Policy and Research Degrees Committees.

Self Assessment: Following the 1996 RAE, a review of research activity within the MRC identified the two main strengths of the Centre as guidance and control of land and marine vehicles under the leadership of Professor Geoff Roberts and intelligent quality systems led by Dr Hefin Rowlands. There is, however, significant synergy between these two thematic areas because of the common usage of the intelligent paradigms of fuzzy logic, artificial neural networks, neurofuzzy systems and genetic algorithms. The review also identified two embryonic research areas of Image and Signal Processing and Strategic Information Technology which although closely related to the two thematic areas identified above were recognised as having significant potential for the future. Since the 1996 RAE submission the level of research activity has increased dramatically. For example, research income has increased from £36K reported in 1996 to £313K for this submission, importantly the rate of increase is rising on an annual basis. This income results from four main sources: TCS programmes, European Grants, EPSRC awards and Industrial support for research. There have been 9 higher degree completions (none were reported in the 1996 submission). Total research publications for the period are 25 journal publications and 95 conference publications, here, as with research income, the increase in journal publications is more pronounced for the last two years. The recent award of the three-year, £596,236 EPSRC IMPROVES programme, described in RA6, is an endorsement and recognition of the quality of work being undertaken by Professor Roberts.

Promotion of research: This is achieved through the following mechanisms:

· Research students and staff involved in research, participate in a programme of research presentations which take place on a fortnightly basis. This activity also provides an excellent training medium for Research Students to develop and hone their presentation skills in preparation for teaching and conference participation.
· Funding is made available for Research Students and Staff to attend and present papers at conferences in the UK and overseas. During the RAE census period a total of 95 conference papers were presented, 44 in the UK and 51 overseas. Copies of all research publications are posted on a centrally located notice board.
· Selective use is made of Research Students for teaching on undergraduate programmes, for the generation of project ideas and joint supervision of final-year projects. The bringing together of Research Students and taught students is seen as having a significant role in developing a research culture within the Engineering Department.
· The MRC organises a rolling programme of Special Lectures and Industrial Visits. For Special Lectures, leading academics and industrialists are invited to visit the MRC and through the medium of formal/informal presentations share their research experiences with students and staff.
· The MRC has its own dedicated web site (www.mrc.newport.ac.uk) which receives over 2000 hits annually.
· The MRC publishes an annual Activity Report, which amongst other data contains summaries of the research programmes and lists the publications and abstracts of papers published during the previous three years. This has a wide circulation both within and without the University College.
· Regular research support workshops are held for new and research active staff where general research issues are raised and discussed. Outputs from these meetings contribute to the Department’s strategic plan.

Staffing Policy: Through its stated mission of promoting research and scholarly activity, the University College seeks to recruit high-calibre research-active staff to fill academic vacancies when they occur. Over the last two years the Engineering Department has been able to offer fixed-term lecturing contracts to four former Research Students who have each completed three years in the MRC. Two of these (Dr Neil Rothwell Hughes and Dr Martin Stanton) were awarded permanent contracts in 1999 and as a result have been fully integrated into the research infrastructure of the MRC and the Department. This is evidenced by their membership of the MRC Research Committee and, under the guidance and support from Professor Roberts and Dr Rowlands, they are continuing their research through joint supervision of PhD programmes undertaken by MRC Research Students. As a further means of developing their research skills they have been used as internal examiners for recently completing PhD students. New academic staff, through their active engagement with the research committee, research degree supervision and examination are fully integrated into and involved with research activities. The number of staff involved in research has increased and whilst they are not included in this submission, it is clear, as described in RA5c and RA6c, that they will continue to have a significant impact on research activity and have the potential to be included in future RAE submissions.

National and International visibility: The national and international visibility of the research active staff is covered in RA6a, however, the following paragraphs cover specific projects which have an international dimension.

University of Girona: Initial collaboration in 1996 between Professor Roberts and Professor Joan Batlle from the University of Girona, led in 1998 to the award of a Travel Grant (£3,300) under the British Council/Spanish Government’s Integradus Acciones programme. Design, testing and evaluation of a novel fuzzy-like PD controller has been undertaken using the University of Girona’s underwater vehicle (GARBI). These algorithms are now included within GARBI’s guidance and control software. This collaborative link resulted in the award of a PhD for a Research Student and the publication of five conference papers and one journal paper, two further journal papers have been submitted. This collaboration continues with a PhD student, based at the University of Girona, jointly supervised by Professor Roberts and Professor Batlle.

University of Pavia: Professor Roberts has worked with Professor Tiano from the University of Pavia since 1985. In January 1998, a student who had completed his MSc in Pavia, joined the MRC to undertake a PhD programme in Intelligent Ship Motion Control. This collaboration resulted in the award of a PhD for the Research Student and the publication of five conference papers and one journal paper. A further student from Pavia will join the MRC in May 2001.

4th Framework Craft Project: This two-year research project: SHARK – Steel Hulls Assembled Reliability in Kits was concerned with improving the buildability of boats of up to 50 metres. The project commenced in September 1998 with industrial partners from the UK, Ireland and Portugal and an academic partner from the welding Institute ISQ in Portugal. The total project cost was 692,000 Euros (with 246,000 Euros to UWCN). Dr Rowlands was the Principal Investigator and a Post Doc was employed for the design of a novel low-cost laser measuring and locating system to facilitate on-line assembly information in the construction of steel boats. As a spin off from this project, a low-cost laser angular measuring device has been designed. This device is currently being developed into a commercial product.


Users of this website should note that the information is not intended to be a complete record of all research centres in the UK

Copyright 2002 - HEFCE, SHEFC, ELWa, DEL

Last updated 17 October 2003

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