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Aecom builds 3D-printed graphene signalling arch

21 August 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

Aecom's CNCTArch (Image: Aecom)

Aecom has built a 3D-printed arch from a graphene-reinforced polymer, designed to bring down the cost associated with installing digital signalling systems on transport networks.

The 4.5m-high arch sits over rail tracks and eliminates the need to attach new digital equipment to existing infrastructure.

Aecom employees developed the technology to replace the traditional bolt and screws method of deploying digital systems in tunnels, which takes four shifts to install. The CNCTArch only takes one shift to install and doesn’t bolt to any existing infrastructure. It can be used in both tunnels and open environments.

It was developed by a UK-based Aecom team as part of the company’s Global Challenge, an internal competition for entrepreneurial proposals that deliver technical solutions to complex problems. CNCTArch was one of 10 finalists in the 2018 competition out of more than 700 entries.

The company has partnered with UK engineering firm SME Scaled to develop the detailed design and prototypes of the CNCTArch using large-scale 3D printing techniques. SME 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.

The company is now 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 in real-time how the arch performs in different weather conditions, measuring oscillation and deflection. The six-month trial is the next step towards commercialising the product.

Mark Southwell, managing director – civil infrastructure, UK & Ireland, AECOM, 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.”

Matthew Lupton, principal engineer (signalling) at Network Rail said: “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.”

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