Magnomatics, Sheffield. 18 August 2015.

Magnomatics friction-free gearbox nears production

A gearbox without gears is about as innovative as it gets, especially when there is no physical contact between the moving parts. But that is what Magnomatics is offering its customers, along with significant fuel savings.

The company originated as a spin-out from Sheffield University in 2006. Backed by £4.5 million of venture capital investment and with support from Innovate UK through the Low Carbon Vehicles Innovation Platform and funding competitions, it has expanded to 28 staff, including 7 PhDs, with aspirations to further growth.

Many customers have expressed an interest in applying Magnomatics technology to road or rail, oil and gas installations, aerospace, marine and renewable energy. That involves initial studies and then taking the project all the way through to manufacturing and delivering tested prototypes. What began as a laboratory-focused venture has evolved into a far more hard-headed commercial business, as product manager David Black explains: “We were originally a group of electrical machine researchers but now we have manufacturing expertise in-house, production and product launch experience. Innovate UK has taught us a good lesson about asking hard questions of customers. We don’t really have the time or resources to spend on inquiries from people purely interested in the technology, above those with a genuine need to get to market rapidly.”

Magnomatics has developed the device through a project with Ford Motor Company in a 2-year collaborative R&D and then further collaboration with Volvo Group. Magnomatics is receiving a further £360,000 grant, together with a £100,000 Smart award, to ensure that Magsplit can be manufactured on a production line. There is now the very real prospect of Magsplit going into low-rate production in one of its target markets of marine, rail, wind turbines or automotive.

“We are committed to starting up a manufacturing base in the UK, collaborating with The Proving Factory in Coventry on production volumes of up to 20,000 pieces a year initially,” said Black. “That’s where most hybrid volumes would be for trucks or passenger vehicles. Beyond that, we might pass responsibility for manufacture on to tier 1 manufacturers or the larger tier 2 suppliers.”

According to David, the key benefits in gaining support from Innovate UK went beyond subsidising the investment risk: “That did make the difference between Volvo Group trying our technology or not. It wouldn’t have happened without that support. But the opportunity to collaborate at that close technical level with major OEMs like Ford has made us the company we are today. Where the support from Innovate UK was so important was in turning mere interest into ‘Yes, we want to work with you’.”