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Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) based assessment of tramway track quality

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  • Full or part time
    Dr C Johnson
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The Engineering and Materials Research Centre (MMU-EMRC) at Manchester Metropolitan University offers up to five fully funded PhD studentships (RCUK-matched stipend of £14,057 and MMU UK/EU PhD student fees of £4,052, both per annum for 2015/16, plus some research expenses), for an April 2016 start.

For full details of the PhD studentship projects available for an April 2016 start:

Interested applicants should liaise directly with the PhD project Director of Studies to obtain further details on the project.


Feasibility studies have shown that repeated samples from MEMS based technology can be combined in an intelligent quotient manner to produce a ‘signature tune’ of current track conditions. This project will further establish new finding from MEMS based research and establish its application within the rail and transport industry.


The need for innovative track inspection technologies arises out of safety concerns as the desire to increase the operational time window and the frequency of operation of urban transport services continues to erode the time available for manual track inspection and maintenance with the consequent effect on safety of personnel and operations. The development of novel technical solutions to address the above concerns has great potential and impact for the rail and transport industry as a whole.

A novel application of MEMS devices has been proposed to measure the dynamic response of a regular service vehicle to imperfections in track as an indirect measure of track quality and integrity. It is this novel application that requires further investigation. Previous methods of detecting faults remotely have used advanced methods for detecting small changes in the vibration signal, which are of short duration during wheel passage. This concept has to be translated to a real time diagnostic process so new methods are required to improve signal to noise ratio, especially in the lower end of the frequency spectrum.

Your work will design and implement a robust sensor system cable of acquiring a series of data and evaluate the application for detecting small changes in the vibration signal by improving signal to noise ratio, especially in the lower end of the frequency spectrum. Establishing if these samples be obtained from multiple MEMS units, combined and used in an intelligent quotient manner to demonstrate oscillatory motion of the rail and form a reproducible ‘signature tune’. Can a real time diagnostic process then be developed to evaluate the ‘signature tune’ and indicate potential faults without requirement for offline processing that applies a self-learning algorithm rather than a rules based approach?

Establishing the capabilities of the processing the system will be achieved along with the evaluation of existing models to evaluate their accuracy given certain system variables.

The potential application of the research falls into other areas of the transport sector and as such evaluation of other potential applications of MEMS hardware in condition monitoring will be explored as part of the PHD. This research is expected to produce written papers describing any innovation to be published in reputable journals or presented at conferences.


The Centre for Sensing and Imaging (CSI) at MMU are seeking to appoint a top-class independently-minded undergraduate. A high degree (1st, Higher 2:1) in a relevant science or engineering discipline such as Electrical/Mechanical Engineering or applied Physics will be required. A good knowledge and practical experience in c programing or other real time instruction base is needed. Verilog and FPGA experience would be desirable but not essential. A good mathematical and English level is required. An existing understanding of SoC sensor based systems and their integration to real time embedded systems will be an advantage. PCB design and system integration with digital signal processing would also be desirable.

Your research will address current challenges in the field of transport engineering applying MEMS based technology in the assessment of tramway track quality. You will be evaluating the dynamic response of vehicles and relating this to real world measurements. During your PhD you will have the opportunity to establish a research profile and network through continued interaction with the rail industry. The CSI believe highly in producing tangible results of which real world impact can be evaluated and as such your designs will ideally be evaluated in real world applications.


Project is only open to Home/EU students only

Informal enquiries can be made to:

Dr Christopher Johnson

Tel: 0161 247 1653
Email: [Email Address Removed]

Please quote the studentship reference: EMRC-CJ-2016-1-PhD.

Applications should be completed using the Postgraduate Research Degree Application Form -

Application Form should be emailed to: [Email Address Removed].

PLEASE NOTE that Section 9 of the application should be used to write a personal statement outlining your suitability for the study, what you hope to achieve from the PhD and your research experience to date.

1 February 2016

Funding Notes

Funded studentships will cover tuition fees at the home/EU rate and an RCUK matched bursary of £14,057 per annum. Fully funded PhD studentships at MMU are only available to home and EU students

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