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Developing a zero-emissions delivery system for a more sustainable future

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From Amazon two-day delivery to GrubHub and Uber Eats, you can get just about anything delivered to your doorstep. And while convenient — and incredibly advantageous during the COVID-19 pandemic — it comes with a negative side effect. The increase in cars and delivery trucks on our roads has led to a significant increase in carbon emissions.

According to the EPA, the transportation industry accounted for the largest portion (29%) of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. And a World Economic Forum report from 2020 claimed that the number of delivery vehicles in the largest 100 cities around the world will increase by 36% between 2020 and 2030, which would result in a 32% increase in carbon dioxide emissions from delivery traffic.

Fortunately, the team at Magway is working on a solution.

Cutting carbon emissions by taking cars off the road

Magway, an innovative startup in London, is developing a zero-emissions system to deliver parcels and goods through a network of underground pipes across the UK. The revolutionary new distribution system uses magnetic rails and a series of small carriages to transport the goods. The company hopes its zero-emissions pipeline-based delivery systems will revolutionize the delivery of packages from distribution centers, potentially taking 90% of delivery vehicles off the roads, reducing pollution and congestion.

As they develop this game-changing delivery system, the researchers and engineers at Magway are testing their designs on a 213-foot track with 106 discontinuous stator linear synchronous motors. The carriages have magnets attached to them and as they pass the motors, they are propelled forward at average speeds of 50 feet per second. Currently, three carriages can be run simultaneously on the track.

But as the engineers tested their system, they were noticing a lot of electrical noise. To find the source of these unwanted electrical signals, the team needed a powerful instrument.

Characterizing the performance of electric motors

As is often the case when verifying and characterizing performance of power supplies, the Magway team needed to capture and analyze more than four analog channels simultaneously. But many oscilloscopes only have two or four channels. So to capture the appropriate number of signals — and identify the root cause of the noise — the Magway team needed to invest in a more advanced instrument.

The team settled on the eight-channel 5 Series Mixed Signal Oscilloscope (MSO58) for the job. The eight channels of the MSO58 offer better visibility into complex systems like those being developed by Magway. When signals are captured on the MSO58, the device displays these signals as waveforms, spectrums or both simultaneously on its large 15.6-inch, high-definition touchscreen display.

Magway - Tektronix 5 Series MSO

“Every time we run the track, we’re collecting thousands of lines of data, including currents, voltages, positions, speeds and torques,” claimed Aanchal Mittal, an Innovation Engineer at Magway. “With the Tektronix scope, we can apply a very systematic, methodical approach, and analyze all that data pretty much straight way to identify any problems and find a solution. At Magway, everything we do is driven by data, so if we have the right tools to collect that data, it makes our job so much easier.”

Finding unique solutions for analyzing a system in the AC domain

When testing drive systems, it’s essential to fine tune the control logic based on three-phase AC signals. However, analyzing a system in the AC domain is inherently difficult. So in addition to the Tektronix MSO58, the Magway team also invested in Tek’s Inverter Motor Drive Analysis (IMDA) software, which rotates the reference frames of the three-phase AC waveforms, so they become DC signals. Calculations can then be made more easily on these DC quantities before inverting them back to AC. This provides Magway with an easier way to correlate control systems and power electronics with the performance of the overall system.

“Our entire control system revolves around measuring our currents and voltages in the DQ axis,” explained Mittal. “The 5 Series oscilloscope, together with the IMDA software solution and probes, really help us measure our currents and voltages in the DQ axis, converting them from three-phase currents. It’s just a method we hadn’t even thought of. This will help us build up the robustness of our electrical system.”

Getting support to act fast

To get Maqway up and running quickly, a team of Tektronix engineering experts provided in-depth support. The team worked with Magway’s staff to make sure they understood how to take full advantage of their new oscilloscope, walking the team through all the features and capabilities.

"Working with Tektronix has been really useful, and their technology support has been great,” added Mittal. “They spent many hours helping us set everything up, and we’ve all got a pretty good idea of how to use the scope now. We got the assistance we needed to set it up, and now we can take all the measurements we need."

Though the Magway team is still working out several kinks in their electrical system, they now have the tools to quickly troubleshoot and innovate. The engineers, including the head project engineer, have been using the Tektronix oscilloscope on every motor and drive on the track and the 5 Series MSO has proven to be an incredibly effective instrument for their work.

Creating a better world with the right partner

Innovation is at the heart of everything Magway does. This is even reflected in the job titles of its engineers, many of whom are designated as Innovation Engineers. So working with likeminded partners that support Magway’s innovative approach is incredibly important to the team.

“We are looking for companies we can work well with,” said Mittal, “Companies who are excited about what they do and share the same passion for engineering that we do. We also want to work with companies that have a passion for making the world a better place. We needed an R&D partnership that allowed us to innovate quickly because it’s through this innovation that we are going to see the changes in the world that we want to see. And we found that in Tektronix.”