Ben White and Mike Watson, Sheffield Tribology Services

Ben and Mike are co-founders of Sheffield Tribology Services (STS), a start-up aiming to provide professional friction and wear testing to the rail industry 

Tell us a little bit about you and STS…

Maintaining an optimum wheel/rail friction coefficient is incredibly important to reduce delays, improve safety and prevent excessive wear. £50 million is spent on mitigating and managing low friction on UK railways each year, but inaccessible friction testing means the impact of this expenditure is hard to quantify. STS is providing professional friction and wear testing to the rail industry.

What do you hope to achieve through the IoT Engine?

Our PhDs and subsequent work for the rail industry highlighted the need for friction testing both in the laboratory and in the field. We have won the 2021 InnovateUK Young Innovators Award for our business plan, which provides mentoring and funding to help refine our design and develop STS. The IoT Engine is complimenting this by providing workshop access to start prototyping our new equipment and teaching us how we can integrate IoT, providing maximum benefit to our future customers in the rail industry.

How has the programme supported you?

Using the 3D printers in the MakerLab, we have now created a prototype for our portable tribometer (friction testing device), and Rikki has been helping us with the programming and IoT connectivity. We have also had the opportunity to attend and present at networking events, and meet other startups who are beginning to use and adopt IoT.

Throughout the last year, our ideas have progressed from a concept, to a design and now we have our first prototype and are able to collect some friction measurements!

Why is IoT important to you?

The low cost and accessible connectivity that is available through IoT is changing how data can be gathered and used. Valuable track data, which could be used to better understand and mitigate railway friction problems, frequently becomes lost or unavailable in the rail industry due to the number of organisations involved. 

IoT has the potential to provide an efficient method to transfer friction and environmental data between user groups, saving rail personnel time, reducing costs due to suboptimal friction and enhancing knowledge transfer between industry and research. 

For more information, you can contact Ben: Ben White | LinkedIn