Mobile phones have changed the way in which
the world communicates, but their functionality can only be as good as the
signal they receive.
The demand for mobile network
availability is growing in the world’s more remote and inaccessible regions,
creating a major challenge for companies in this sector: how to develop new,
robust telecommunications infrastructure that’s reliable, simple to install and
inexpensive to maintain.
The development of new mobile networks
tends to be expensive. In populated areas, energy and maintenance account for over
half of a phone mast operator’s costs. In more remote areas, particularly
certain parts of Asia and Africa, access to a consistent source of power is
rarely guaranteed, which only pushes the price even higher. This means that
companies need alternative sources of power to enable development of remote
The use of a diesel generator, or
genset, has been the traditional approach to tackling this issue. While
generally reliable, these units must be refuelled regularly – a substantial
undertaking if there are multiple masts located many miles apart on poor
quality roads. Regular breakdowns can also occur, particularly if an operator
is not monitoring a unit regularly via a predictive maintenance system, for
example. Other disadvantages of diesel gensets include inefficiency (because
they run at a constant speed), noise, pollution and their desirability as a target
These issues are causing a shift towards
less energy-intensive power sources with lower maintenance requirements, more
reliability and added security. Among these technologies is the microturbine
genset (MTG), a multi-fuel generator for phone masts that is currently being
championed by UK company Bladon.
on to MTG
In contrast to diesel gensets, MTGs can
run off a mixture of different fuel types, such as diesel, kerosene or a
combination of the two. This, along with the fact that MTG parts cannot be used
in traditional diesel gensets or road vehicles, helps to deter thieves by
making it more difficult for the unit to be repurposed elsewhere. Each MTG can
also be monitored and controlled remotely in real time with a special controller
that is supplied with the product.
Crucially, an MTG requires fewer service
visits than a diesel genset, thus significantly reducing maintenance costs for
operators. Depending on the location, MTGs can last a month (as opposed to
several days) before an on-site service is needed.
Coventry-based Bladon is one of the
world’s first manufacturers of microturbine gensets for the telecoms market.
Supported by venture engineering services provider Productiv, Bladon has
developed the Bladon MTG, an ultra-low vibration product and the world’s only
EURO V Compliant 12kW diesel genset. At <65dB per 1m, it is also the
quietest genset on the market.
The company developed its first
prototype of the Bladon MTG in 2014 but did not have the in-house resources to
optimise its manufacturing design and commercialise the product. As Bladon’s
director Philip Lelliott explains, additional help was needed to take the
“We were looking at several possible
markets and applications for the prototype, including range extension for
electric vehicles. In the end, it was Productiv that worked with us when the
telecoms market was identified.”
Bladon soon asked Productiv to get
involved in the design, manufacture and commercialisation processes, with speed
of the essence in all three cases.
“The Productiv team started by
validating the design and recommending adjustments,” Philip says. “We then
revised these designs based on their feedback and started looking at suitable
opportunities and penetration points in the telecoms market.”
it right first time
As the company agreed the final design
and came closer to assembly, Productiv supported Bladon by developing what it
calls a ‘guided sequence’. This broke down the assembly of each MTG into 1,000
individual steps, including: powerplant insulation, electrical wiring, fuel and
air systems, dump resistors, door locking mechanisms, powerplant mounting,
turbine and alternators, cabinet panels, combustors, battery assembly, and
Productiv then reviewed each step to
ensure that it was optimised, while removing any stages that the team deemed
unnecessary, collating the remaining steps into a clear, easy-to-follow guide.
The Productiv team identified several
potential issues during this process. Access to the recuperator-end of the
powerplant insulation, for example, was restricted, making it difficult to
insert fixing bolts. The insulation material’s thickness was also inconsistent,
which meant that an engineer had to individually measure each component before
cutting the material.
The installation of the dump resistors
also risked incorrect orientation and assembly of the system. In these cases,
Productiv created clear photographic guides to demonstrate best practice for
assembly, as well as an idea of what the components should look like once
“The guided sequence that Productiv
created has since become our assembly team’s bible,” Philip says. “We’re now
installed at Productiv’s own facility, The Proving Factory, where we plan to manufacture
one MTG every 12 minutes.”
Bladon Jets is now entering volume
production for its MTG, which may soon power many of the millions of phone
masts available worldwide. The company has also received its first major order
from a leading mobile phone tower operator.
“Correct assembly of the MTGs has been
vital to ensuring quality control and optimum performance,” Philip says. “The
Productiv team’s painstaking efforts to identify and address any possible
issues has helped us to create a complete assembly blueprint which we can now
take forward into volume production.”
For further information visit www.productivgroup.com.