Test and Validation Engineer Stephanie Dawson recently spent 9 months working with the University of Birmingham using Digital Twin technology on ‘Birmingham Rail a Virtual Environment’ (BRaVE), a simulation that allows engineers to conduct testing without using real trains on live track. To celebrate Women in Engineering Day, she walks us through her experience of the project, what it could mean for the future of testing, and her hopes to inspire more women to choose a career in STEM.
I’ve been working in test engineering at Hitachi Rail ever since I finished the graduate program four years ago. After completing a master’s degree in electrical engineering, and volunteering at a heritage railway, it seemed like a natural career path for me.
I’m grateful for my experience at Hitachi, which has enabled me to work on ground-breaking projects, like our Digital Twin, that I believe will have a profound effect on the way we conduct testing and our capacity to test new systems across the industry.
The Digital Twin Project
The innovative Digital Twin Project (known as SETH – Simulated Environment for TMS Hardware-in-the-loop) allows engineers to conduct testing without using real trains on live track, which could have huge benefits for passengers and the rail industry alike – including reducing costs and disruption. Using Train Monitoring System (TMS) hardware and simulating the rest of the train and the railway networks, we’re able to conduct testing in the laboratory, rather than requiring live trains and available track to test in the open air.
Creating this testing system could drastically reduce the time needed for testing, providing flexibility for manufacturers and operators to work on different projects, and saving money on expensive live trials.
However, we’re not finished yet. My team and I continue to work with Dr Kirkwood and the University of Birmingham and since the project finished, we’ve worked on streamlining the process and collaborated on presenting our work, most recently at the World Congress on Railway Research earlier in June.
In the future, I’d like to see our research used for more testing, including for safety and maintenance, so that the progress we’ve made can help drive down the need for live testing across the board.
Collaboration fosters innovation
The Digital Twin project came about through a partnership between industry, Government, and academia, and highlights the importance of creating collaborative ecosystems to foster innovation.
Without the help of the Royal Academy of Engineering and the University of Birmingham, the advancements we’ve made wouldn’t have been possible. We relied particularly on the expertise of Dr David Kirkwood, who works at the University’s Centre for Railway Research and Education and developed the BRaVE simulation.
It hasn’t all been easy. Working with a new team in a remote capacity during a global pandemic presented a unique challenge. As a woman who has worked in a male dominated field throughout my career it’s easy to be overlooked sometimes, but our shared passion for the progress and innovation that this technology can realise has guided our ground-breaking work and led to results we’re all proud of.
Women in Engineering
One of the reasons I’m so grateful for my experiences on the SETH project is that it hasn’t always been easy for women to pursue a passion for Engineering. Significant progress has been made in narrowing the gender gap in STEM over recent years, but it’s clear there’s still a lot of work to do.
My hope is that through work on projects like SETH, young women and girls can be inspired to pursue a career in STEM and realise their potential and the value they can add. There are so many opportunities in the engineering world for women, and the entire rail industry stands to benefit from the talent and innovation they will bring.