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Digital Twin Technology in Train Servicing and Maintenance

Applications are invited for a full time PhD studentship in the College of Engineering, Design and Physical Sciences on a research project in Digital Twin Technology in Train Servicing and Maintenance funded jointly by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Successful applicants will receive an annual stipend of £17.009 plus payment of their full time home tuition fees for a period of 36 months. The start date is 1st October 2019. Only those eligible for home tuition fees can apply.

Here, a Digital Twin (DT) refers to a comprehensive physical and functional description of a cyber-physical system combined with operational data. This DT supports all stages of the system lifecycle and in particular operation of the system in order for example to identify operation anomalies or failure modes, and to feedback service data into improving the design phase.

You will join a team that have developed an experimental robotic system for train fluid servicing with TBG Solutions Ltd, in collaboration with Chiltern Railways. Areas for further research are emerging from this project, in terms of widening the scope of autonomous systems for performing tasks that are not well-suited for humans. Such systems will generate data on the condition of robot and the trains being serviced, providing opportunities to improve the reliability and availability of trains. You will initially investigate:

  • Review relevant aspects of DT, virtual prototypes, cyber-physical systems, model-based system engineering and Internet of Things.
  • Develop DT technology for representing physical assets of train servicing with virtual models.
  • The potential impact on autonomous train servicing of combining service data with simulation models.

Informal enquiries should be directed to Professor Mark Atherton at mark.atherton@brunel.ac.uk


Successful candidates must have a first degree at or equivalent to 2:1 or above in a suitable engineering discipline, e.g. mechanical engineering, systems engineering, mechatronics, or similar. A Master’s level qualification is desirable but not essential. You must also be eligible for home tuition fees otherwise your application will not proceed.

Demonstrable practical engineering ability through project work is expected. Relevant experience in autonomous systems or mechatronics is an advantage. In addition, he/she should be highly motivated, able to work in a team and have good communication skills.

How to apply

If you wish to apply, please email the following to cedps-pgr-office@brunel.ac.uk AND mark.atherton@brunel.ac.uk by no later than Friday 27th September 2019:

  1. Your up-to-date CV.
  2. Your single A4 page, single-spaced personal statement setting out why you are interested in undertaking this project (this is an ideal opportunity for you to demonstrate your motivation and summarise your suitability for research) and confirmation of your eligibility for home tuition fees.
  • A brief research proposal on digital twins, 5 pages should be sufficient. This will provide an indication of your ability to investigate, summarise and critically evaluate technical information relevant to the research area. It is common in PhD study to expect a doctoral proposal to be developed by the applicant before a decision is made and we aim to show our sponsors EPSRC and RSSB that a rigorous process has been followed in selecting a candidate. Here is a good guideline: Example PhD proposal.
    Assume a design of compliant gripper that holds a fuel nozzle needs to be totally reliable in connecting to the fuel tank. The compliance is an important feature in accommodating coupling misalignment and the forces it encounters will potentially provide insight into the position of the train, condition of the coupling parts and also the end effector condition. Outline the equipment that will be needed to enable the monitoring of a compliant end effector.
  1. Copies of your degree certificate(s) and transcript(s) confirming that you have a first degree at or equivalent to 2:1 or above in a suitable engineering discipline;
  2. Evidence of your English language capability to IELTS 6.5 or equivalent, if appropriate;
  3. Names and contact details for two academic referees.