Engineering Spotlight: Stuart Paterson

Tell me a bit about your role within the Digital Displacement team?

I work in the electronics hardware team, developing our first off-highway Digital Displacement pump controller – the DPC12 – which controls the DDP096 pump. Previously, our electronics were developed with industrial applications in mind, now that we’re moving into off-highway we’ve had to overcome some challenging reliability requirements. I’ve been designing and testing circuits that are robust against temperature extremes, electrical transients and more.

How did you get into engineering?

I always wanted to be an engineer – apart from when I was too young to know what an engineer was – back then I wanted to be a builder. I’ve always had an interest in how things work and how they’re made. Lego was my favourite toy as a child, but I assembled machines rather than buildings. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone when I applied to study electrical and mechanical engineering at university. I’m glad I chose such a wide field as I really enjoy both aspects, although I like to think of myself as a bit of mechanical engineer in disguise!

Engineer fixing

Stuart Paterson

How did you fall into the role you are in now?

I started with Digital Displacement in January 2017 and I’m coming up for four years in January. I was very particular when looking for jobs, and it was important that my job meant something to me. When I first saw the position come up with Digital Displacement, I was amazed that such a cool technology was being developed so close to home. The tech had recently been awarded the MacRobert Award and it seemed like this was going to be the next big technology to come out of Scotland. I’m quite proud of Scotland’s engineering heritage – and Digital Displacement really is the next milestone in the country’s history of innovation. I like to think that Digital Displacement is the hydraulic equivalent of James Watt’s steam condenser – an invention that revolutionised the efficiency of steam engines and kick started the industrial revolution – maybe the hydraulic revolution is coming.

My role has changed a lot as we’ve moved to commercialise the technology. Back when I first started, my attention was split between several projects, with a hint of R&D. The DDP096 was well underway but the company was still working on a wide mix of projects – rail, wind, busses – and demonstrating all the places our technology could make a difference. As the projects evolved towards taking the product to market, I’ve been more involved in designing for production. It’s been an exciting journey with a steep learning curve and it’s only going to get better!

What do you find the most interesting thing about Digital Displacement?

What I’m most excited for is how radically this technology can change something that has been stagnant for so many years. For a regular excavator, most of the energy from the fuel consumed is wasted. That’s mainly because standard pumps are inefficient and inflexible, meaning more lossy components must be used to get the function you require. Now, with Digital Displacement, we can remove or change almost every part that wastes energy in that excavator. There is potential for fully hybrid machines that use half the fuel. I’m looking forward to seeing the looks on people’s faces when they realise the potential of these products.

Digital pump controller

Digital Pump Controller (DPC12)

What would you say to someone considering using Digital Displacement pumps within their technology/machinery?

I would ask them to take this seriously, it’s not a gimmick. When you think back a few decades, people were suspicious of the electronics appearing in their cars which I’m sure people thought was unreliable, unnecessary and overcomplicated. But these days it’s impossible to buy a new car without all the features that electronics have unlocked. This is the same step for hydraulics. In 10 years, or even less, this technology will be everywhere – do you want to miss out?

What stream/focus of engineering do you see yourself being involved with in the future?

Despite working mainly with electronics after university, I still enjoy working across multiple disciplines. I like to try and see the whole picture when it comes to my work – how my contribution affects the whole system, rather than just focussing inwards on my corner. I also really like the people aspect of engineering; it’s extremely satisfying to work as a team to solve problems in an elegant way. So, in the future I’d like to see myself leading a small interdisciplinary team and bringing both elements together.

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