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Keeping technology on track

Dr Shuaishuai Sun
School of Mechanical, Materials, Mechatronic and Biomedical Engineering

Technology improving the ride comfort of vehicles, operation speed of trains and efficiency of locomotive robots

Commonly associated with suspension systems, magnetorheological (MR) technology centres around a carrier fluid, usually oil, filled with micrometre-sized magnetic particles. When subjected to a magnetic field, the particles inside increase the fluid’s viscosity. The fluid’s ability to transmit force can be controlled, which gives rise to its many possible control-based applications.

Dr Shuaishuai Sun, an Associate Research Fellow in the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, is an MR and mechatronics expert. His interest in engineering came from a visit to a factory during his undergraduate studies where he decided that he wanted to build the next generation of vehicles.

“MR technology soon attracted my attention because of its magic properties; its capability to improve the performance of many mechanical products, especially vehicles,” Dr Sun, who has focused his research in the field of MR technology and its innovative applications ever since, says.

End-users of his research include the transport industry, in particular for structural control in construction and robotics. But MR technologies provide real-world solutions across a variety of sectors, according to Dr Sun, by providing structural stability to reduce noise and vibrations.

For example, an advanced MR shock absorber, developed by Dr Sun under Professor Weihua Li’s supervision, opened a new research direction on vibration control. The development of this smart suspension has facilitated the opening of a company in China, with key players within the trucking sector committing to using this new technology in their vehicles, including forklifts.

Dr Sun has also been collaborating on a national level with the Australian firm M&S Engineering Pty Ltd. For several years the team has been developing and evaluating MR technology-based rail dampers for railway noise reduction which has evolved into a commercially viable product. This collaboration has resulted in an Australian Research Council Linkage Project as well as several smaller grants.

Since 2015, Dr Sun has worked with Professor Shiwu Zhang from the University of Science and Technology of China to extend his expertise in the field of robotics. This collaboration has led to the creation of the adaptive robotic leg. The design is based on MR technology and allows for significantly improved locomotive energy efficiency, allowing the robot to move better.

A barrier to MR technology use has been the high cost for developers, an area in which Dr Sun hopes his innovations will resolve by providing solutions that cost less and perform better across a variety of applications.