Crofton Beam Engines and Mechatronics: Industrial Revolution meets 21st Century Technology

During our July Mechatronics Steaming Weekend 27 & 28 July, Crofton will be hosting a series of lectures and discussions about the incredible research being carried out on our Beam Engines.

This type of research is called Mechatronics. In collaboration with world class universities and industry we have been monitoring our engines’ health and performance. This allows us to fine tune our practice to make sure our engines can work as effectively as possible, while taking every care of these amazing pieces of equipment from another age, now well into their third century of operation.

Crofton Beam Engines is home to some irreplaceable industrial archaeology. Indeed, it is the only place in the world where you can see steam power pumping water just as it has been doing since 1809. Owned by the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust and operated by volunteers we have a duty of care to these impressive machines.

Whilst respecting the Grade 1 listed nature of the site we have, over the last four years, been implementing a 21st century data capture system (see photos below) to collect information allowing us to monitor the performance and health of both our engines. The general term for this process is Mechatronics and it covers all aspects of machine health and performance. The aim is to provide analytical data that we can use to spot subtle changes in the measured values allowing us to fine tune our care and maintenance plans. Already it has provided us with an early detection of a problem that could have proved catastrophic had it remained undetected.

As funds allow we continue to expand our capabilities. This year we have been focussed on pump efficiency, we do after all move around 12 tonnes of water a minute with each of our two pumps, and making preliminary investigations to ensure that we get maximum efficiency from our hand fired boiler.

Building on the success of last year’s Mechatronics event we plan to have lectures and discussions throughout both of our steaming days. This gives every visitor an opportunity to get to the heart of the operation of these machines and the information we collect. We cannot pretend that this is a wholly new idea, our Victorian engineering ancestors understood the benefits but their driver was to get maximum work out of every shovel of coal and less on machine health. Their understanding of the engine operation was excellent but they could not collect data continuously and had no method of post collection analysis that would help with diagnosing issues in progress. They would be in awe of what we can achieve today.

The data we collect is available to institutions for ongoing analysis. We already collaborate with world class universities, schools and industry and we will be happy to discuss sharing information for educational purposes.

We look forward to seeing you on the 27 and 28 July. Out volunteers will be happy to discuss and explain our operation and plans for the future. But most important, just enjoy the beauty and elegance of these remarkable engines built at the start of the industrial revolution and thankfully still running at full power today.

We will have our normal steaming programme where visitors can see our engines at work lifting 12 tonnes of water a minute to feed the Kennet and Avon Canal. Once on-site, visitors will be able to attend our lectures and take part in the discussions, as well as watching the boiler staff stoke our boiler and watch the engine drivers bring the engines to life.

We have a Pop-up tea tent providing tea, coffee, soft drinks and light refreshments. Visitors are welcome to bring a picnic and enjoy the stunning scenery at Crofton.

Please see here for more details and to book your tickets.



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