Last Man Standing

The Bang continues; our deadline for our second assignment was today at 2pm (Friday 17th Nov 2017).  According to our WhatsApp chatter, it seems like everyone was working until the last minute again.  We have another assignment to hand in next week (Management and Innovation) and out Metrology assignment should have been in next week, but they have now given us a two-week extension.  Trouble is, we have wall to wall lectures, Monday to Friday for the next 4 weeks.


In my post before my last entry (Precision Engineering), I mentioned that our most experienced lecturer, Dr Paul Morantz had been made redundant and will be leaving us at the end of November.  Well, now


our Course Director, Dr Renaud Jourdain has been cut loose and finishes next March.  Poor Renaud, he was only promoted to Course Director this year, they wouldn’t even let him finish one year.  It’s not as if we don’t need lecturers and thesis supervisors, three were cut loose last year, now these two which I think only leaves us two left, the youngest ones.  Even though they are young, they are very bright and enthusiastic, but they do not have the experience to offer as many supervisory options as we have now.  I’m not even sure what will happen to me as I was hoping to work on the R2R machine.  Who can supervise me?

KernAnyway, it’s been so hectic that I have had no time to write a post for ages.  Our Precision Engineering assignment was to describe and criticize a KERN Evo automatic milling machine.  I had never even heard of one before I read the assignment at the end of the weeks lectures.  I don’t believe that it was even mentioned, so that’s what Research Students must put up with.  No starting information at all, all research.  It’s a wonderful machine, it’s amazing how much Engineering has changed since I started my apprenticeship.   I spent 3 months in machine shop shortly after our first your in the training school; I was placed with the operator of an automatic turret lathe.  It was state of the art at the time as it used a roll of punched tape that provided the control.  The operator put the casting in, clamped it and pressed the green button.  We then waited for 15 minutes while all the machining operations were done and he changed the casting and pressed the green button again.  It’s very difficult to keep up with it, especially as a contractor where you are moving onto different projects all the time.

The second part of the assignment described a cylindrical part that was to have 25, 80-micron diameter x 20 mm pins machined at one end.  Well, the first thing that struck me was that it was impossible!  Why would you want to?  Why not fit the pins to the cylinder rather than machine them from solid?  I couldn’t believe that it was possible anyway, so I created a solid model to see.

80 micron diameter pins                                      800 micron diameter pins

Surely, its not possible to machine this from solid?  Even if it is, it would be so delicate, what the hell could you use it for.  Trouble is, things have changed so much that I am starting to doubt myself.  Have to wait until we get our results now anyway.  We had to talk about how they would be made from Aluminium and Tungsten Carbide.  Again, tungsten Carbide is so strong and hard that it is glass brittle.  I cant see, even the 800 micron pins being able to be used for anything.  I’m hoping that they have put trick questions in, otherwise, the most experienced chap in the group is going to look pretty stupid.  Mohammad found a relevant 2017 paper written by the two lecturers that will be marking this assignment.  I cited it and wrote that it was written by “very distinguished Dr’s”.  The second time, I also mentioned that they were also handsome.  You have to hedge your bets and there is always room for a little humor.


We also had a week of lectures for Management and Innovation.


Although its not really my cup of tea, our two lecturers couldn’t have done more to make it interesting.  I don’t remember falling asleep once.  However, from day one, they split us into groups and we seemed to have to do a presentation at least once a day.  I have never known a course like it, but at least its helping to diminish my phobia about public speaking.  Our main lecturer was Dr Clive Savory who was at DeMontfort University and the Open University before he came to Cranfield.  The other one was Professor Marek Szwejczewski who has published more than 50 papers.  I couldn’t help thinking that Prof Marek looked just like a young Jasper Carrot.  His mannerisms were the same as well.  He didn’t tell any jokes, but I still called him Jasper once, but I think I got away with it.

DSCF3255.JPGAnyway, by Friday, we had to do a group project where we were to design a “City Car”.  We were to create a business model and build a prototype out of Lego.  It had to park autonomously in a multi-story car park.  It also had to park itself in one of three spaces and if they were full, parallel park.  It had to have lights, carry luggage and make a noise when it reversed.  Ours, even had a soft top that tilted up.   We only had about 3.5 hours so we had to split into different jobs and work concurrently to save time.  We didn’t stop for lunch or even a cup of DSCF3257bloody tea.  Luckily we had a “coder” to write the software, so I worked with him as the hardware engineer.  I used to love Lego.  Anyway, we were the only team that managed to complete every task and it ran autonomously almost perfectly.  We had the most luggage, it was a sports car and top end but we only came second because of the others in our team that created the business model I guess.  Anyway it was great fun; except for the damn presentations.  The base was a controller with three sensors that we had to build Lego parts onto, program, download the program and run it autonomously.  Have to go now as I’m out on the lash with Dr George and its an hour walk so more next time.


Under Pressure

We certainly started with a Bang!  The deadline for our Laser reports was yesterday (Tuesday 24th Oct) at 4 pm.  To achieve this date, we all seemed to have to work silly hours at the end.  Working long hours all weekend wasn’t enough, and I started at 4.15am on Monday before lectures.  Continuing again in the evening, following our lectures until 11pm.  I had set my alarm for 5am on Tuesday but got up earlier and started again at 3.45am.  I picked Mohammad up earlier at 7am so he could help me sort out my references and submit the reports.  I say 7am, but he didn’t wake up until 7.04 when I texted him to see if he was awake.  He had worked until 3am.  We were all wiped out for our Matlab lectures on Tuesday, as GC Ren didn’t finish his off until 4am.  He said that his submitted report contained 9000 words and that his thesis for his previous MSc only contained 8000.  Mohamad had done 8900 and I had about 9050.  Although mine had the most words, it also has the most waffle and bullshit so I expect the worst marks.  I don’t care if I manage 50% to pass.

Although it’s been long and hard, we have learnt so much in such a short space of time.  We used an ultrafast laser to machine our snake paths.  Ultrafast has a wavelength of femto seconds (10 -15s or a millionth of a billionth of a second).  Below is a micrograph of the corner of the silicon sample where we machined our snakes.


We started on around 32% power with our first cut, bottom right where it blasted the hell out of the silicon.  We reduced the power with 2 attenuators progressively towards the left. Stepping over before each cut.  The 3rd to last cut was our best but we did two more with increased mode power in case it was too feint to see well enough to measure the trench widths and depths.  We started by measuring the track widths with a microscope and got what seemed like a consistent set of results.  To get a better result we took 3 track widths for each leg of the snake and averaged them.

central 0 offset 1

When we measured again using the interferometer microscope to find the depths we discovered that you should use an interferometer every time.  You can place the cursor in an appropriate position on the sample and see cross sections of the sample surface.  As the track width reading were much wider using the interferometer, we had to repeat our results again as they are obviously more accurate.  We think that the dark lines that we measured on the microscope must be the shadowed part of the illumination which is part way down the sloping trench.


Ultra-fastAn ultrafast laser is so fast it doesn’t really have time to melt the target.  It works by concentrated hi-power photons knocking valence electrons out of the target solid structure lattice.  As these valance electrons are forming the covalent bonds within the crystal lattice, when they are removed these atoms become vaporised changing from solid to gas.  The vaporised ions and free electrons are ejected as plasma.  When there is a great enough concentration of photons to knock out electrons, the free electrons knock out other electrons in the structure and cause an avalanche of ionisation.  This is called the ablation threshold.  Oh shit, I wish I had written this in my report!

It’s quite interesting to look at the profile of the trenches, with the build-up of material either side of the trenches.  It reminds me a bit of a meteorite crater.  The shape of the trench is completely different but the sides are similar.  I guess that some the free electrons hit ions to reform a solid again locally before they have chance to get too far apart.  The extreme slopes and sharp base of the laser trench is interesting as well.  I guess that the middle is where the highest concentration of photons is and so ionises the most matter on average.  I suppose if it wasn’t such a quick pulse or stayed in the same place for more pulses, it would drill a parallel walled hole through the target.  It’s amazing how much more you learn when writing up reports than you do in the lecture or laboratory work.  The lab work and lectures are enjoyable but also necessary so you have something to research about.  You can’t do this sort of research without the facilities in the first place.

Our laser setup the beam is expanded as it can be focused smaller with the objective lens

Back to work today for the first time since I started the course.  Three new faces there, it doesn’t take long for changes to be made.  My computer still doesn’t work and nobody has done a thing about it so not everything changes fast.   It’s still nice to come back for a rest and free lunch.  Shame I can’t get on the internet though as I could have saved plenty of time for me in my own time.  My accountant told me not to pay myself anything for coming to work occasionally as it will complicate the funding with the tax man but someone told me that if you earn with a part time job when you are funded its tax free.  Sounds like I need to find out PDQ either way.  Anyway, I will now be behind with my assignment for last week’s lectures, and we have another week of lectures next week with an assignment.  We also have the same again the following week so I will probably have stacked up 3 unfinished assignments by then.  Added to the problem is that we have the odd week free to do assignments but they keep slotting in additional stuff then.  Like this Friday we all have to go over to Cambridge University again.  We are not sure what for but someone thinks it is a kick off meeting with their students to organise a student lead Conference next April.  Anyway, I guess that we will find out when we are there but maybe we could have done a little research before we went if we knew.

Still having trouble with administration, having to jump through hoops several times to get things sorted, but finally got my funding so it should be automatic each month now.  They are still inventing unimaginable and exciting ways to challenge us.  I had an email saying that my registration time had been extended by a month.  I emailed back to say that I had registered, I had a student card that lets me in everywhere, I have been paid registration fees and now funding, what did the mean and what do I need to do?  I had an email back saying that I “had only been registered for 11 months and this is a year’s course so I need to go to security to have my student card extended”.  Wow, that one must have taken some imagination.

Although we were exhausted, we quite enjoyed our Matlab for beginners 2 day course.  In fact I wish I had done it at the beginning of my last MSc as it would be so useful with all the matrix manipulation we were doing on that course.  Matlab can handle matrices with dimensions of millions by millions if necessary.  It was developed by an analyst called Cleve Moler using Fortran who found it was inadequate to manipulate matrices in the 1960’s.  The main competitors are “Python” that came from an object orientation background and “R” which came from a statistical background.

Venkat Sastry

Before joining Cranfield University in 1989, Venkat was a Lecturer at Plymouth Polytechnic having been appointed in 1987 following his work there as a Post Doctoral Research Fellow.


I was very pleased when the lecturer asked us for a group photo to put on his website, saved me taking an unofficial one.



File 24-10-2017, 10 36 11
Matlab students 2017

Precision Engineering

B40A very full week this week with very little time to work on our previous assignments from Cambridge University.  All week is 9am until 5.30pm but most lecturers ran over eating into our breaks and lunch time.  We are only scheduled 45 minutes for lunch anyway which is not normal for Universities.  Two days we couldn’t even buy sandwiches so survived on cakes and tea.  Its even difficult to buy tea as Building 40, where all the lectures are this week, is only close to the Stafford Cripps Building that has Costa Coffee which is not only expensive but, more importantly, takes forever if you have a couple of people in front of you.

Dr Paul Morantz

Paul Morantz, the top man in Ultra-precision Engineering at Cranfield University took us for the majority of our lectures this week. Cranfield University which is the only University in England that only has only post graduate students and therefore is comparatively quite small. As a result, they have as many staff as they have students.  This ratio is as good as any top cruise line and it surprises me why we don’t have a similar service.

boltzmann-acoustic-resonatorPaul started by talking about some of the prestigious projects that Cranfield have been involved with, that I wasn’t aware about.  They have made so many mirrors for the best telescopes in the world, I could hardly believe it.  When Paul took us around the ultra-precision engineering laboratories, it was a feast for the eyes, but you are not allowed to take pictures.  There is one part that Paul designed and made for the project with NPL to modernise temperature using the Bolzman acoustic resonator method,  that was beyond belief.  It is around 100 mm diameter sphere with holes, that sensors are inserted into that will change one of the 7 fundamental SI units next year.  To do this, the sphere had to be made to an accuracy of 1 nm on its internal diameter.  How is this possible?  That’s about 10 atoms accuracy over 100 mm.  Paul has held dozens of world records for accuracy over about 3 decades.  He has unbelievable knowledge and experience which became more and more evident with every lecture he gave.  We found out that Paul will be leaving Cranfield in November so won’t be able to mark our assignments for this week.  I caught him outside to ask him where he was going but was amazed to find out that he was being made redundant.  Since our interviews, he was as shocked as me, to find this out.  Whet a massive loss for the University and for us for the next 4 years. “WTF”.


We had our first lecture from Claudiu Giusca, Tuesday lunchtime about Calibration.  He was so enthusiastic about his subject as he had been working for NPL but I found it hard to hold concentration for more than 10 minutes.  We had Saurav Goal again first thing Wednesday morning talking about single point diamond turning which I found much more interesting.


Because diamonds are anisotropic, they can only be polished in a certain direction.  Also, water is a better coolant than oil based coolants with diamonds.  When diamond turning, its possible to take 1 nm cut off with each turn.  Obviously, this makes the progression time very slow.  Who would have thought that turning would beat lasers and ion beams hands down?

The Chinese guy in our group that I call Hugh because I cant pronounce his name, or even remember it.


Other than Paul Morantz, we only had Xavier Tonnellier talking about abrasive processes  and Renaud, talking about non-conventional machining processes on Thursday. I was surprised to hear that Kodak were first to produce and develop a plasma ion beam.  This is Renaud’s specialty.


The final thing on Thursday was the group presentations that we only had a few hours to prepare.  Also, they split groups up randomly, with 3 or 4 to a group.  Our presentation was about the current state of ultra-precision engineering.


They seem to be so keen on embarrassing us this year, as we had another impromptu presentation on Friday where we only had about an hour to prepare. To make things worse, we were allocated what we would be talking about when the presentations were made.  We hadn’t time to research our subject, so it was done while we watched other groups presenting.

Our group

The big German refused to help and the Chinese guy did his usual shrinking so poor Marta got up on her own.  I couldn’t leave her to do it on her own so I got up with her, even though I hate this sort of thing.  I know that they hit you hard at the front end of MSc type courses, but I’m not sure that I am really enjoying this as it much too frantic.


I spent very long hours working on the Cambridge assignments at the weekend but I am nowhere near finishing while writing this on Sunday evening, while watching the USA GP with a drink.  They must be in by Tuesday evening, and we have lectures Monday and Tuesday so I have set my alarm for 4am in the morning.  The only other time I have is after lectures Monday evening or at 4am Tuesday morning.  Happy days!  Maybe I’m getting too old for these silly games.

Loose Ends

Following the end of our Cambridge University experience we had lectures on Wednesday and Thursday this week.  That leaves us Friday and the weekend to write up the two lab reports from Cambridge, one for metrology and the other lasers.


I started Wednesday by returning the hire car that I have had for the last 12 days.  I was a little concerned as I hadn’t taken the waiver out and so had to pay the first £1000 for any damage.  No problem encountered this time, I dropped it off around 9am and my friend Jimmy picked me up at 9.15am and took me over to Bromham in Bedfordshire to pick up my new used car.  No problems encountered there either as my flexible friend did its duty.  I had already changed my insurance from a car worth £650 3rd party to a car worth £6500 full comprehensive which cost £25 extra.  No more 3rd party for me.  I couldn’t get any tax for the new car without the log book so Shane helped me at the garage.  Not bad, £30 for the year, I just got back £150 from what was left of my old car.  That’s about the only thing I have won on.

I had missed most of the morning lectures but they weren’t very appropriate anyway so I headed off to the library at Cranfield and Jimmy headed home.  Thanks Jimmy!

I coudn’t find “for Dummies”

At last our Blackboard has been loaded with some lectures.  These are for next week’s, Precision Engineering lectures.  There are 14 of them, all with 30-40 pages each.  I like to print mine off so that I can write appropriate notes on them as we go.  I am also taking notes directly onto my laptop this year because I had tremendous difficulty reading them last time.  I didn’t have enough print credit so printed what I could and emailed Renaud, my course director to let him know that I was the only one without print credits.  He emailed administration, they emailed IT and I went into IT where they updated my card.  This time, as it’s a research degree we have a print account that is paid by the University.  Another change from my MSc is that my library book allowance has gone up from 6 books at a time to 30 books.  I was like a kid at Christmas and had a trip around the library and filled my car up with books.

Georgina Parsons

Our first lecture in the afternoon was library instruction. How very appropriate.  This year Sarah Watson is our librarian.  It’s always worthwhile getting to know your librarian as they can be a tremendous help and save you hours.  We started with an overview from Georgina Parsons.

Georgina is the Research Data Manager and looks after all our research data.  All research data that is produced must be accessible for the following 10 years.

The rest of the lecture was by Sarah Watson but I was unable to find a picture of her but she is an information specialist.  She told us some really great things about the facilities we have and search tips etc.  I could have done with this lecture before I started my last research thesis.  I also found out that there is a second library at Cranfield that is accessible to us all.  It’s the Management library, so a little boring to me but still worth a mosey round if I ever get time.

On Thursday we started with an overview of Precision Engineering by Dr Saurav Goel

Saurav Goel

Dr Saurav Goel is a Lecturer (fast track) and an early career investigator in the School of Transport, Aerospace and Manufacturing at Cranfield University. He started his academic journey in 2013 as a Lecturer at Queen’s University of Belfast upon graduating from Heriot-Watt University (HWU), UK in the same year.

It was very interesting, I seemed to be learning new things all the time.  It was a great overview of what we will be doing in greater depths.  For example, write pitch is getting smaller all the time; –

CD write pitch 1.6um – DVD 0.74 um – Blu-Ray 405nm

Precision engineering also follows Moors law.  Ultra-precision machining is doing for light what integrated circuits did for electronics.

euspenWe then had a presentation from euspen that was also very interesting and they are located in the same building as us, Building 90.

Dishi Phillips
Dishi Phillips
David Billington

It seems that for students there is no down side to joining as its free.  We were handed out packs and membership joining forms.  Well, everyone but me as they ran out.  I had to have a quick trip to Building 90 to pick up mine later.  I think we will all join because at the very least we will get some nice, relevant magazines delivered each month.  And there is a fully funded conference next year in Venice.  In 2020, if I’m still there the conference is at CERN so something to look forward to.


In the afternoon we had question time with our Administration staff, Maeve and Emma but I couldn’t find a picture of Maeve.

We could all ask silly questions and in return we got silly answers.  No, it was very useful as we are all a little under-informed about the course finer details, such as pass rates, grading and holidays etc.


Finally, as well as replying to new job inquiries to ask them to take me off their database, I have been updating a few people that I don’t see, regarding my next 4 years.  This is a reply email from Paul at Minstrell Recruitment, a very professional agent if you are looking for work in automation; –

Hi Phil.

Of course I remember you… could I forget.

We refer to you as the one Ocado let get way. Their loss.

I’m really pleased that you have fallen on your feet and enjoying life.

The fact that you have taken the time to mail me say’s everything about you Phil.

A great bloke with a great attitude.


I wish you all the success in the world with the PhD and I will be more than happy to help you in the future although it sounds like you won’t need much help.


All the best Phil


Paul Leyshon

Senior Engineering Automation Recruitment Consultant

Well that’s about finished this week off, I now have 3 days to try and get two lab reports written up before we start new lectures all next week which also has assignments.