How a lifelong passion for electronics is taking the complexity out of new technologies for motorcycle manufacturers
Elspeth Case is an Electrical/Electronic Engineer, based at Ricardo’s Leicester Technical Centre. Here she shares her insight about managing product complexity, challenges and opportunities for manufacturers around electrification, and how she hopes to inspire the next generation of electrical and electronic engineers.
You had a unique opportunity from a young age to study electronics – how has that shaped your career to date?
"I was quite interested in electronics when I was young, and studied it formally as one of my GCSE subjects at secondary school. I was very lucky because very few schools offer this as a subject. My older brother was also interested, so it really helped me being surrounded by opportunities at home and at school.
“I went on to study electrical and electronic engineering at the University of Nottingham. After graduating, I joined General Dynamics in 2016, and had a great team around me who helped me to hone my engineering skills and knowledge and develop my career so that I was well placed to progress into my current job at Ricardo in February 2020.
“When I applied to read engineering, I didn’t really know what engineering was, and looking back, I would have welcomed the chance to be able to speak to other women who were five years older than me and already working in the industry, so I could have a conversation with them and find out a bit more about what it means to be an engineer.
“Now, I’m working myself, I like being able to speak to female students at GSCE level to help open up the possibilities of a career in engineering. There are not many women working in the electrical engineering sector, and I have become quite used to being the only woman in my team. If I can plant a seed in the minds of young female STEM students now, then in the future, it will hopefully be less normal to be the only female electrical engineer in the office.”
What capabilities do you and your team offer for motorcycle manufacturers?
“I am part of a team of 15 people based at one of our sites at the Leicester Technical Centre, and we provide design solutions for Ricardo’s motorcycle customers and manufacturers worldwide. We undertake projects of all sizes from very big full vehicle design, through to smaller, focused projects.” “The team has a range of skills across design engineering, mostly mechanical based, and Ben Evans and I are the electrical and electronics specialists.”
What opportunities are there for Ricardo to help manufacturers manage product complexity and navigate electrification effectively?
“If you look back 50 years, motorbikes were little more than a battery, a couple of lights and a horn! Technology on bikes now is increasing at an exponential rate. With new technology and increased complexity come opportunities for a company like Ricardo which can provide that very balanced and trusted technical guidance on how to manage or reduce complexity, and understand and select the best technology solutions for a product and a brand.
“We see particular opportunities in battery technology. Products are getting ever cheaper as demand grows. As the battery price comes down, it opens up the market, so there will be more and more electronics that can be squeezed into a motorcycle. The more tried and tested a technology is, the easier it is to use it in different applications: for example transferring from a race bike to a road bike.
“Electrification in motorcycles will probably offer slightly longer term opportunities. Ultimately, electrification is the way that the world is going, and it’s very likely that it won’t be long after the sale of new petrol and diesel cars is phased out in the UK in 2040 that the motorcycle sector will follow suit.
“Generally, though, the people who ride motorbikes as their hobby or sport, are quite resistant to electrification. The mainstream audience are largely petrolheads who want the loud roar of an engine, so I think it will take a little time for the customer base to change their mindset with regard to electrification and adopt products with these new technologies.”
What is the biggest challenge that manufacturers face?
“This has to be carbon footprint and cleaner energy. Although the concept of an electric motorbike sounds great for the environment, as engineers we have to account for the lifecycle of a vehicle: from the raw materials through production processes and then the generation of energy needed to power the vehicle. Each of these elements has an environmental impact. Only by reducing the impact of each element can manufacturers make their product more sustainable.
“Conversely, if manufacturers can do that, then that is their biggest opportunity because they will open up the market for electric vehicles and sustainable solutions for transport.”
How do manufacturers benefit from working with Ricardo?
“It’s our really extensive knowledge base. We work and collaborate remotely with our engineering colleagues at our sites across the UK and Europe. Ricardo engineers have truly diverse experience that has been gained from working with a wide range of customers and projects, and this is very valuable.
“Ricardo Software is something that is a very specific benefit: we use a software package called Ignite which is one example of this. Ignite provides users with simulations of engineering input and that enables us to support customers with valuable information about a product that they would not be able to generate themselves. This in-house capability is a strength that Ricardo can offer for the benefit of manufacturers.”
As a biker yourself, do you look at product development as a personal and professional pursuit?
“Yes! I have always had a fascination with motorcycles. Nobody else in my family was into bikes, so it wasn’t like I saw my dad on a motorbike when I was growing up or anything like that. Once I finished university, I decided to do my test, and my love of bikes just went from there. When I got my first bike, I took the time to gain experience of riding it, and now I have my second, bigger bike I really doing road trips and weeks away. My favourite recent road trip was around the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – everything was great apart from the very rainy weather!
“Being a biker helps from a design perspective – you instantly know what you would do as a rider and how you would use a product, so my personal experience shapes my decision making. I would say it’s an ideal situation for Ricardo customers, that I can use both my personal and professional knowledge, skills and experience to make their product the best it can be.”