41 : UTC reveals its Research Road-Map to 2023

By the end of year 2016, the HCERES will have assessed all the UTC laboratories for the 5 year period, 2012-2017. The University is taking this opportunity to update its scientific research policy for the forthcoming contract (2018-2023). Interactions zooms in for its readers discovering the major orientations and how they will be implemented in the UTC research units.

41 : UTC reveals its Research Road-Map to 2023

ROBERVAL: a wider perimeter to engage a determined system approach

The UTC-Roberval Lab is specialized in mechanical, acoustics and material engineering. The UTC-LEC (electro-mechanical engineering), works on electric actuators and power feeds for on-board systems. The plan is for UTC-Roberval and UTC-LEC to come together as of Jan.1st 2018 as a single research unit (covering mechanical, energy and electrical engineering) while retaining the name UTC-Roberval Lab. So what is at stake? Answer – to be able to respond better to the challenges of complex technological systems.

If you do not use a systemic approach, it will prove difficult to solve the equations that describe complex technological systems. It was when realizing this that the project to unite the forces of UTC-Roberval and UTC- LEC came to be, both research units possessing complementary skills and areas of study. For instance, today we seek to reduce the weight of cars to decrease fuel consumption. This challenge is all the more relevant when the vehicles are all-electric and you wish to extend their range. The paradox is that while bodywork gets lighter, all-electric vehicles become heavier and heavier because of the onboard batteries, and driverless cars even more so. “The only way to solve this sort of problem is to have the teams work together and not separately”, explains Jérôme Favergeon, Director of UTC-Roberval. “When you split the challenge into separate items, you tend to lose the overall vision and challenge: each specialty comes up with an ‘efficient’ optimized solution, but this may potentially be antagonistic with other solutions. Consequently, the final gain is nil and performance will even be degraded”.


Roberval’s two assets for success

In coming together, neither lab is abandoning nor denying use of classical mechanistic approaches, viz., studying each sub-system of a given system, independently from the others. The aim now is to intelligently combine the local and the systemic approaches and to demonstrate the added value in doing so. “We possess two assets to succeed”, emphasizes Jérôme Favergeon. “On one hand, we set off down this path as early as 2012 and, consequently, today we are mature enough to pursue in confidence. On the other, and even by uniting our forces, we shall comparatively remain small research unit compared with others working in the same fields as us, with our approx. 160 scientist-engineers. In other words, we shall retain sufficient ‘agility’ to engage in transverse investigations. This position allows us stand apart from the major laboratories and be recognized for our own merits, given that we cannot rival their work in a head-on confrontation”.


Three societal challenges

Again, in coming together, both laboratories are widening their research perimeter and scope of investigations and will stand better armed to offer solutions for three societal challenges they have chosen as a framework for future work. The first challenge relates to transportation modes tomorrow; all-electric vehicles, naturally and railroad transport where the need for technological innovation has become self-evident if we want to reduce operational costs and regain a degree of competitivity compared with air traffic (notably in reducing the electric power consumption of locomotives). But, likewise, in the field of aeronautics or maritime, river and canal transport … which constitute themes where UTC-Roberval has acquired research acumen with the CEREMA (Research and Expertise Centre for Risks, the Environment, Mobility and Planning): the Digital Hydraulics Laboratory.


A promising synergy horizon


The second challenge relates to energy transition policies, which are not limited to transportation issues. The academic Chair ‘Picardie Mechanical Engineering’, animated by the UTC-Roberval Laboratory has recently launched a project that touches, inter alia, on wind turbine installations. The objective here is to study the possibility of using a carbon fiber reinforced polymer that would enable the building of wind energy megastructures that must be able to resist extreme mechanical strains, such as would be the case for offshore wind farms with blades around 100 m long and occasionally hit by violent winds. This new composite, while being particularly light, could prove vey resistant to ambient (and extreme) conditions and would increase the efficiency and power range of the wind turbines. Moreover, in the framework of its joint laboratory with CEREMA, UTC-Roberval is planning to work on sea-turbines and wave-energy convertors. “As we see it, these are relatively new research topics and, given that the UTC-LEC already has a lot of expertise in energy conversion, it would make a good fit with UTC-Roberval’s acquired skills in upstream mechanical systems”, adds Jérôme Favergeon.

The third societal challenge relates to revamped industrial policy in general, with two thematics to explore. The first concerns micro-factories: minute fabrication/assembly units designed to automate fastidious, demanding tasks such as making and assembling watch parts or electronic components. One of the aims here will be to optimize efficiency levels for the systems that equip these micro-factories, to cut electric power consumption. Here again, the concerted works between UTC-LEC and UTC-Roberval will prove to be highly advantageous assets.

Lastly, in this chapter of renewing industrial potential, UTC-Roberval wants to develop further its research programmes on factories of the future – the digital transformation of industrial companies (robotisation …) and adaptation of management to gain in quality, costs and delivery dates as well as in the area of sustainable development targets (taking into account the complete life cycle of products, from design drawing board to end-of-life recycling, the energy efficiency of production means …). In 2018; UTC-Roberval will assign a specific research team to investigate tomorrow’s design and fabrication chains, again from a systemic angle.