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The University of Southampton

COVID-19 drone trial soars with support from Engineering Design and Manufacturing workshops

Published: 14 July 2020
Covid-19 ULTRA drone
The ULTRA drone was designed and built by University of Southampton engineers for Windracers

An innovative drone trial that is accelerating the movement of medical supplies by flying them across the Solent has tapped into specialist university engineering services to install some key upgrades.

The Windracers ULTRA drone is delivering equipment to St Mary’s Hospital on the Isle of Wight in a future transport trial that was brought forward by the Department for Transport for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Experts from the University of Southampton’s Engineering Design and Manufacturing Centre (EDMC) produced the majority of the drone’s parts for the project and have manufactured new exhaust manifolds and components for the tail section uprights during the campus lockdown.

The University has over 10,000m² of specialist workshops, laboratories and testing facilities dedicated to engineering, providing the foundations for a diverse range of research, education and enterprise activities. The EDMC, which is based on Highfield Campus, formally re-opened its services on Monday 6 July.

Kevin Smith, Production Facilities Manager, says: “The EDMC is the largest, best equipped and most versatile of the manufacturing engineering workshops on campus. To add to our already extensive equipment list, we are about to install two new Robot Arms which will be able to Hot-Wire cut and machine components parts over five metres in length.

“We jumped at the chance to manufacture the upgrades and to support the further development of the ULTRA drone to highlight the importance of the project. The low cost of transporting essential medical supplies quickly between the mainland and the Isle of Wight is of much relevance at this particular time and could easily have further real importance around the world.”


EDMC workshop
EDMC facilities have manufactured drone parts during lockdown

Work on the double engine, autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has called upon a range of the Centres skill sets, including WaterJet cutting, (Computer Numerical Control) CNC Milling, CNC Turning, Conventional Machining, Sheet Metal work, Metal 3D Printing and some welding.

The majority of the EDMC’s service is accessed by students as they work on their degrees’ Individual and Group Design Projects. Many of these ambitious undergraduate projects are showcased annually in a summer Design Show.

“Providing students attain skills in training and can demonstrate their capabilities, there are few machines which are not open for full student use,” Kevin says. “We also manufacture research focussed components parts and indeed specialised component parts for industry including Rolls Royce, Airbus and BAE Systems.”

The EDMC supports the Southampton University Formula Student Team (SUFST) with the manufacture of bespoke race parts for their car, including the 3D Printing of many suspension components.

“We are also often asked to help with high profile projects such as the Wild Wheelchairs handcycle, which scaled Ethiopa’s tallest mountain last autumn,” Kevin says. “One of the benefits of being based in Engineering at Southampton is the dynamic and diverse range of projects. Much of our research is world-leading and the different activities reflect that.”

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