Ski slope knowledge transfer partnership wins awards

West Yorkshire-based Briton Engineering Developments Ltd, who produce the ‘Snowflex’ artificial ski slope system, have been working with the University of Bradford in a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) to utilise the University’s expertise in polymer engineering and help them address issues with their product.

The partnership was one of nine partnerships selected to receive an award by Knowledge Transfer Partnerships, an organisation funded by the Government’s Technology Strategy Board and Europe's leading programme helping businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK knowledge base.

In addition to that, the partnership also won a Yorkshire Forward ‘Innovators/08’ award in the Global Innovation category. The results of both awards were announced on Wednesday 5 March 2008.

Briton Engineering’s Snowflex system comprises a number of polymer components. The skier experiences it as a carpet-like surface and can dig the skis into it to steer, achieving an effect close to the real thing.

Beneath the surface is a layer of polymer foam, or the shock-pad, to absorb impacts and prevent injury. The ski-slope can include features such as jumps and is suitable for both skiing and snowboarding. Further realism is added by keeping the slope sprayed with water so that its frictional properties more closely resemble that of real snow.

Shaun Waddingham, Director of Briton Engineering, said: “The presence of jumps has ensured that some areas of the slope are subject to frequent and heavy impacts. This resulted, over time, in localised failure of the foam layer which fragmented and lost its energy-absorbing capability.

“Repairs were expensive, and downtime on the slope caused some loss of income to the slope operators.

“To address this problem, we linked with the University of Bradford’s School of Engineering, Design and Technology to form a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, financed partly by the Department for Trade and Industry.”

The project, which concluded in September 2006, was worth £115,000 of which just over £77,000 was contributed by the DTI. It was led by Shaun as Industrial Supervisor with Dr John Sweeney, an expert in Polymer Mechanics from the University, working with Mechanical Engineering expert Dr Simon Stewart as the KTP Associate.

Dr Sweeney said: “To find an improved shock-pad foam, a regime of accelerated testing was designed and set up within the Polymer Research Centre laboratories at Bradford.

“A programmable hydraulic testing machine was used to apply repeated impacts on the foams under conditions resembling those you would find in normal ski slope use, which involved soaking the test material with water during testing.

“A parallel set of tests was implemented at Briton using a custom-made testing rig. As a result, a much improved material was identified that is now used in all new installations, including a recently completed £1.7m project at Noeux-les-Mines in France.

“Before the development from the KTP, the company were less willing to contemplate installations outside the UK, where repair visits would have been prohibitively expensive. The new low-maintenance technology in the system brings many benefits, including increasing the range of potential sites across the globe.”

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