Professor Mark Girolami FRSE has been appointed Lloyd’s Register Foundation / Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair in Data Centric Engineering and will lead a five-year project to explore how big data can be incorporated into engineering practice, including the development of new data-centric techniques to monitor the safety of physical structures that will be trialled on the world’s first 3D printed stainless steel pedestrian bridge.

Stress analysis of the bridge, courtesy of Arup.

Professor Girolami, Chair of Statistics at Imperial College London and Strategic Programme Director for the Turing-Lloyd’s Register Foundation Data-Centric Engineering Programme at The Alan Turing Institute, will develop novel methods and software to create virtual copies of physical structures, also known as digital twins, in order to model what might happen in real life.

Professor Mark Girolami said: “We are now able to measure the ‘heartbeat’ of large-scale, complex systems – such as oil processing plants, gas turbines or the infrastructure systems of entire cities. This offers huge opportunities for engineers, ensuring that systems are resilient to damage, efficient and economical to run. Yet with these opportunities come immense challenges around how we actually use this data rigorously and systematically.”

The new methodology will be used to collect data from the development, construction, deployment and operation of the world’s first 3D printed stainless steel pedestrian bridge. The 12m long bridge, which is printed by MX3D and due to be installed in Amsterdam in late 2018, will use a network of sensors to continually monitor its structural health and feed this data into a living computer model.

The digital twin will imitate the physical bridge with growing accuracy and enable engineers to predict how the structure will change over time to ensure it remains safe for pedestrian use.

Professor Girolami said: “As the properties of 3D-printed stainless steel at this scale are largely unknown, we are essentially working with a new material. This presents us with a challenge - how do you monitor the structural integrity, and create a digital twin, of such a safety critical device without knowing how the material will perform over time? Using a data centric approach to engineering can help address this and will have enormous implications for society and industry.”

The data collected will also provide valuable insights to inform designs for future 3D-printed metallic structures.

The ability to collect data at unprecedented levels is transforming every stage of engineering, from design to manufacturing, operation to deployment, and maintenance to decommissioning. Professor Girolami’s research will establish a new area of engineering science, developing theory, methods and applications for data centric engineering. This emerging field will bring together engineers, mathematicians, statisticians and computer scientists.

Professor Richard Clegg FREng, Foundation Chief Executive of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, said, “We are living in a complex and interconnected world where bridging big data and engineering is of growing importance. The Royal Academy of Engineering Chair, alongside the £10m funding that the Lloyd’s Register Foundation has already committed to growing this new area of data-centric engineering, will help in working together to assure the safety of critical engineering-related infrastructure for the benefit of society”.  

Watch the latest update from the MX3D Printed Bridge: 

Notes to editors

  1. Research Chairs and Senior Research Fellowship scheme. Over the last 20 years, the Academy’s Research Chairs and Senior Fellowships scheme has successfully supported numerous academic appointments and enhanced internationally renowned centres of excellence. This scheme aims to strengthen the links between industry and academia by supporting exceptional academics in UK universities to undertake use-inspired research that meets the needs of the industrial partners.
  2. Lloyd’s Register Foundation helps to protect the safety of life and property by supporting engineering-related education, public engagement and the application of research.
  3. Royal Academy of Engineering. As the UK’s national academy for engineering, we bring together the most successful and talented engineers for a shared purpose: to advance and promote excellence in engineering. We provide analysis and policy support to promote the UK’s role as a great place to do business. We take a lead on engineering education and we invest in the UK’s world-class research base to underpin innovation. We work to improve public awareness and understanding of engineering. We are a national academy with a global outlook.

We have three strategic challenges:
- Make the UK the leading nation for engineering innovation
- Address the engineering skills crisis
- Position engineering at the heart of society

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