Automotive AMElectric VehiclesRapid PrototypingSustainability

Magway pulls the future of transportation into the present

An interview with Matt Bacarese-Hamilton, Product Manager of the company that is changing the delivery of goods forever

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We focus a lot on end-use cases for AM because they are often among the most exciting applications of the technology’s fairly recent developments. However, the use of AM for one of its original applications – prototyping – is still very much alive and thriving, as we saw during our visit to the Magway development facility in London, earlier this year.

Magway is one of the most promising companies in the field of sustainable transportation, globally. The start-up’s technology is based on, as the name suggests, magnets. Essentially, a cart is pulled along a track by linear motors, and the result is an energy-efficient, trackable transportation system that can ‘time deliveries down to the very second’.

Magway pulls the future of transportation into the present. An interview with Matt Bacarese-Hamilton, Product Manager. The company was founded in 2017, by Rupert Cruise and Phill Davies. “Rupert is our magnetics savant. He comes from magnets – he lectured in it. He understands what we’re doing in linear motors better than most people in any field of linear motors. Phill basically saw how this could be applied and worked with Rupert to create Magway – with the vision that we are all about decarbonizing logistics. But I think it’s an even bigger picture at the moment – decarbonizing transport.”

In 2020, the company raised more than £1,500,000, from more than 2,200 investors in 66 countries – more than doubling its original target of £750,000 – on Crowdcube. This was boosted by an additional grant from Innovate UK, the British government’s technology innovation agency.

“A lot of our design process is very fluid. We get changing requirements based on new customers all the time. And from a commercial standpoint, we’ll be going to different events where we want to demonstrate different things all the time,” Matt Bacarese-Hamilton, Product Manager at Magway explains, while elaborating on the importance of 3D printing within the company – which makes use of both an in-house printer (an Ultimaker 5S) as well as external contractors, such as DAM, in London. “We’ve recently done some 3D printed chassis work with an external contractor so that we can test some material performances, look at how it’s going to fit together, and a number of other things. We use the technology mainly for iteration and demonstration purposes, and do as much as possible in-house, but obviously we have to accept the limitations to what we can do.”

Magway pulls the future of transportation into the present. An interview with Matt Bacarese-Hamilton, Product Manager.

More specifically, an example of how the Magway team uses 3D printing for prototyping is that of rapidly creating and iterating wheel designs with different radii. At a ‘very low level of testing’, to check basic dimensions, before Magway ordered the fabricated wheels, “We did our initial test, we put the printed wheels on, and we put the magnet on the track, but because of the force between the magnet array and the motors – it just crushed the wheels. This was at 30% infill because it was quick. We knew it was probably going to take like a week, ten days, to get something external in, so we upped the infill to 80%. This worked – the wheels proved what we needed them to – and we were able to place an order with a much higher level of confidence,” said Matt.

“We celebrate our failures as much as our successes. So, we’ve got a framed bit of 3D printing spaghetti that is actually from the wheel project,” Matt says. “We left it to run over the weekend. This was before I’d set up our cloud camera stuff on the printer. So, we came back, it had gone ballistic, as you can see, and I thought, you know what, let’s learn from this. And then we set up the cameras, and we framed it.”

“In the past, we had ordered some wheels that were the wrong size because we kind of did it in a rush. So this is where our iterative steps came from. We’re really just trying to refine and consolidate our design process at every opportunity.”

Magway pulls the future of transportation into the present. An interview with Matt Bacarese-Hamilton, Product Manager.

The same approach for developing the wheels applies to almost every aspect of Magway’s design – whether it be the magnet array or the chassis. The ability to have the physical prototype in the office, merely a few hours after designing it, is an incredibly practical and increasingly necessary tool for projects of this nature, especially when it comes to aspects such as – in Magway’s case – the mounting points for the magnet array. “All of this is insanely useful to have in-house,” Matt tells 3dpbm. “I’m the biggest fan of 3D printing exactly this kind of stuff. Not just because it’s aesthetic and it’s cool, all of that, but actually being able to get some function out of it is incredibly valuable.”

For Magway, ‘the more commercially-driven side’ of 3D printing is the ability to demonstrate what exactly Magway is, physically, considering that it is quite an abstract idea. “It’s difficult to tell people [what Magway does], but you can show them a pipe, for example, you can show them a carriage,” Matt says.

Another way in which 3D printing is enabling

Magway to create the transport of the future is the ability to collaborate across geographies. For example, the team’s industrial designer is based in Manchester, but he can “just send the files over, and instead of him trying to abstractly explain to us how something works, we’ve got it in front of us now. And so the mechanical team can almost pull it apart and say, well, this isn’t going to work, and this is going to work,” Matt tells us.

How does Magway work?

In order to move the carriage along the pre-laid track, Magway uses a three-phase linear synchronous motor, which induces a magnetic field, “more simply, when you pass a current through coil, you induce an electromagnetic field. We’ve got an electromagnet and then an electromagnet, and then an electromagnet. So we’ve got three electromagnets connected – and that’s our linear motor,” Matt says.

The motors are connected to power electronics, and act as controllers and turn the electromagnets on at the right time. To put it simply – the carriage is pulled along the unelectrified aluminum track, by individually controlled electromagnets.

Magway has also developed a vertical track, the drives for which are AKA ‘The Christmas Tree’, which is based on the same technology, except for the fact that the electromagnets are placed directly above one another to compensate for the additional factor – gravity.

“There’s gravity with this one. If I shove it up, it’s going to come back rather quickly. So, we’ve essentially limited the distance between motors to zero. We shove it up, and then shove it up, and then shove it up, and don’t stop shoving it up because gravity is strong. And so, we’ve tested this up to I think it was about 170kgs. This was purely a proof of concept.”

“When you develop a track like this, you really see how limitless the applications are. If I’ve got a vertical section when I’m building a new building, or even upgrading an old building, I can now fit this thing to it. The possibilities are endless.”

Currently, Magway is working on projects “tens of kilometers long, in some pretty unforgiving environments”. However, Magway does not install these tracks. “We’re the deep tech side of it. We’ve got a system that works. Our value add is in the software, the control, our understanding of the motors.”

The progression of Magway’s wheel development

When put to the test, the printed nylon wheels were wearing down due to the friction between the wheels and the aluminum. So, the team decided to go with a better-suited technique – steel coated with polyurethane. According to Matt, either the track or the wheels have got to wear out and give in eventually, and it made more sense for the decision to be for the wheels to be replaceable, instead of the track itself.

Looking at Magway’s different use cases for their systems that have developed over the years, one really gets a feel for the potential applications as well as the progress the company has made. “We’ve got a dual tote, we’ve got bulk material, we’ve got an early e-commerce prototype. You can see all the proportions to rail and stuff like that.”

When asked about the future of AM at Magway, Matt has this to say: “The quicker that you can get something prototyped, in your hand, and on the track – the quicker you can make it better, you can improve it. And I would never want to see that stop, but I think beyond that, additive manufacturing is getting to a point where it’s unlocking new areas otherwise untapped by existing fabrication methods. You could manufacture something on-site, like a concrete building, or if you need to have some sort of complex bracket that holds your Magway pipe that couldn’t be made with traditional casting – you can do that on-site. And it’s stuff like that that really excites me because we’re in a field that is so new, everything is open to us. We’re not engraved in existing manufacturing methods – like you are with traditional rail – because everything we’re doing is new… For example, when it comes to advising on the way a bracket needs to be installed, you would say, well, the pipes need to be within this tolerance, and you need to use this specific bracket to fit them together. That bracket could very well be 3D printed on site.”

“More and more sites, in London in particular, are not standardized – you’ve got old buildings, you’ve got new buildings. If I’m retrofitting something, it’s not going to be as easy as if I’m building something new. And I think 3D printing is how you bridge the gaps between both old and new at the same time,” Matt concludes, with reference to the potential of 3D printing.

Research
Composites AM 2024

746 composites AM companies individually surveyed and studied. Core composites AM market generated over $785 million in 2023. Market expected to grow to $7.8 billion by 2033 at 25.8% CAGR. This new...

Edward Wakefield

Edward is a freelance writer and additive manufacturing enthusiast looking to make AM more accessible and understandable.

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