Additive manufacture for railway track component life extension with premium laser-clad coatings

EPSRC iCASE 4 year PhD studentship

Academic Supervisors

Dr David Fletcher and Prof. Roger Lewis (University of Sheffield)

Industry Supervisors

Kevin Blacktop (Network Rail Infrastructure Limited)


This is an exciting PhD research opportunity combining academic research at University of Sheffield with industry experience at Network Rail. The focus is on the mechanics and materials of the rail-wheel contact, at which the small contact patch and high train load routinely takes rail materials to extreme stress levels. The research will develop understanding of how a large-scale additive manufacturing method using premium laser-clad coatings on basic steel track components can extend their life. Success in this area will produce longer life track, meaning fewer line closures for maintenance and reduced cost, thereby having a big impact on how the rail network runs.
This research is funded by an Industrial CASE (Cooperative Awards in Science and Technology) studentship from the EPSRC National Productivity Fund with Network Rail.

Funding details

100% tuition fees at the UK/EU rate for the four year duration of the PhD plus an annual tax free stipend of £20,000 per year

Project detail

Additive approaches to creating graduated change in materials and mechanical properties through a component are novel in rail track manufacture (rail, insulated block joints, switches & crossings). Research challenges include understanding what material imperfections can be tolerated through contact stress and fracture mechanics assessment, and ensuring wear, friction and plasticity of the developed surfaces meet the demands placed on them. Research will focus particular on modelling (e.g. finite or boundary element techniques), combining this with experimental work at small and full-scale.

The research lies in the areas of contact mechanics, fracture mechanics and tribology. Alongside this academic research the PhD includes the opportunity to spend periods with Network Rail getting a real understanding of the opportunities for improvement to the rail-wheel system, and to see how your research can be applied.

For further information contact Dr David Fletcher: Early application is encouraged as the advert may be closed early if we receive an application from an outstanding candidate. Start date is 1st October 2017.

Research environment

University of Sheffield began its partnership with Network Rail in 2009. The Faculty is also home to Transport Innovation Centre Sheffield linking rail research with wider work on other transport modes, and to the Leonardo Centre for Tribology which specialises in research and development in tribology and surface engineering. The Leonardo Centre leads the EPSRC CDT in Integrated Tribology. The successful applicant will have the opportunity for alignment with the CDT to access a wide range of training and development opportunities not otherwise available.

In the Research Excellence Framework 2014 the Department of Mechanical Engineering was in the top 5 in the UK for research excellence. At undergraduate level we run a specialist module on Mechanical Engineering of Railways, and PhD students can take this as part of their research training.


The successful applicant will have a first degree at 2:1 or 1st class (or equivalent relevant experience) in one of these areas: Physical sciences, applied mathematics, engineering, materials science.

The EPSRC’s eligibility criteria mean the award is generally open to UK and EU students, although the latter may only be eligible for a fees only award.

You will be expected to have excellent communication, written and verbal, and organisational skills, along with a keen interest to engage in industry focussed research. Interpersonal skills are also required to effectively work as part of a research team.

Closing Date: 17 July 2017