FIRMA Engineering Ltd


The challenge:


FIRMA Engineering Ltd was established to address the increasing requirement for high integrity detailed structural design and analysis, particularly within heavily regulated industries such as nuclear and aerospace. With an appetite for a challenge FIRMA also works on Research and Development projects both for their clients and internally.


One such in-house project was the development of a Lighter Than Air Surveillance Drone (LTASD), designed for inspection of legacy nuclear facilities to aid with Post Operational Clean Out (POCO).


The device was designed to be deployable into very hazardous nuclear cells via a restricted access port, in order to collect physical and environmental data to aid with POCO planning. FIRMA were keen to find local, additional expertise to support the development of the proposed integrated control and monitoring avionics.

What we did

Through the Sheffield Innovation Programme, the University of Sheffield provided strategic project development, with expertise from Dr Bryn Jones (Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering) and Dr Stuart Wrigley, Business Development Manager.


This included contributing to a forward research plan, defining key product work streams and resource requirements for product delivery. In addition, the University also worked on theoretical modelling of the drone’s dynamics which led to the development and implementation of a bespoke control system upon a custom built electronics module.


Bryn’s work on the electronics and control system for the drone included actuators, mechanical devices which are responsible for movement and sensors that contributed to the drone having autonomic control, thus relieving work for the pilot navigating the drone.

The results

FIRMA benefited from the considerable electronics and control systems design expertise at the University and were able to access the prototyping facilities of our Sheffield Robotics research group, including 3D printers to complement FIRMA’s existing in-house capabilities.


A research plan was developed and theoretical modelling performed to assist in the design of the drone alongside further collaborative work through an Innovate UK grant award led by FIRMA Engineering.


The final device will offer a number of advantages including easily deployable, retrievable and disposable characteristics, with a low risk of causing infrastructure damage and airborne contamination. It is believed that using this approach will offer a step change in the maintenance, life extension and decommissioning of facilities in the energy market.


There is significant potential for working with FIRMA Engineering on future research collaborations. FIRMA is continuing to develop the LTADS with the proposed introduction of functional materials for use in environmental measurements and is also working on a new project to develop a “Flexible Interchangeable Reconfigurable Mechanical Arm” (F.I.R.M. Arm) which is also aimed at the nuclear decommissioning sector.

Splendid! FIRMA Engineering has enjoyed working with the University of Sheffield and looks forward to future collaboration.

Stewart FeatherFIRMA Engineering Technical Director

It has been fantastic working with the University and has resulted in strong academic links across the campus which we believe to be key to future R&D projects at FIRMA.

Alan LongfieldFIRMA Engineering Managing Director

It’s been a very rewarding experience working with the team at FIRMA. The University of Sheffield is committed to helping local businesses through such joint R&D projects.

Dr Bryn JonesDepartment of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering

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