Using electromagnetic motor systems powering carriages on steel rails, the Magway system takes delivery traffic off the streets and places it in pipes.
The explosion in e-commerce over the last 10-15 years has had a corresponding impact on city streets, with delivery vehicles and the emissions they produce rising steadily over time. This expansion is showing no signs of slowing down, with global shipping volumes expected to reach 200 billion parcels by 2025.
While this may signal a new era of consumer convenience, this continuing rise in deliveries comes with an environmental cost at a time when there is renewed focus on curbing emissions. The World Economic Forum is predicting a 30 per cent rise in urban last-mile delivery emissions in the planet’s 100 largest cities by 2030.
But what if there was a way to eliminate those emissions and take that congestion off the streets? This is what Magway aims to achieve with its revolutionary approach that could massively improve the sustainability of delivery systems in urban centres.
More than a pipe dream
The Magway system aims to provide a safer, faster, more reliable and more sustainable way of delivering parcels than current solutions.
Co-Founder and Commercial Director of Magway Phill Davies says, “Magway is a solution for addressing the explosive growth of online deliveries and the resulting volume of goods that have been transported on polluting vehicles.
“We take the goods off the vehicles, the vehicles off the road and deliver them sustainably and reliably through pipes.”
Davies co-founded Magway in 2017 with his business partner Rupert Cruise, who worked as an engineer on Elon Musk’s Hyperloop project. A pilot scheme was first developed using $2.16m of crowdfunding, before the UK government’s ‘Driving the Electric Revolution Challenge’ awarded the project a further $2.6m.
“Magway’s faster, safer, cheaper, and most importantly greener, than other alternatives.” – Phill Davies, Commercial Director, Magway
Initial installations are focused on connecting a west London distribution centre with two large consolidation centres just outside the city, with the connection having the capacity to handle more than 600 million parcels a year. There are also future plans to install 850km of track in decommissioned gas pipelines that can service consumers directly in the capital.
A key aspect of Magway’s approach was in miniaturising the system. The carriages that carry deliveries will run through pipes that are just one metre in diameter. While this may seem small, the system is capable of handling 90% of parcels that are ordered for delivery.
Magway can deliver large amounts of volume through its pipeline networks, with Davies highlighting that, “We’re able to run our carriages very close together, meaning a single system can carry the equivalent of 40,000 articulated lorry journeys per week.”
The system also offers a range of other benefits when compared with current approaches. There are no driver limitations, and the tunnel system offers a highly secure delivery method with no chance of road accidents. It can also operate efficiently at any time and in any weather, as well as offering accurate tracking of parcels along delivery routes.
Magway estimate that cost savings can be greater than 70% when compared with road network alternatives.
Riding the wave
Magway runs inside plastic small diameter pipes similar to those utilised by large gas and electricity providers. This eases the installation process as existing techniques and technologies of tunnel boring and pipe installation can be used.
Moving around new or existing pipe systems that can run below ground, underground or even suspended, Magway’s carriages travel just milliseconds apart from each other at speeds of up to 50kph. Automated loading and unloading processes controlled by advanced computer programming maintain a steady flow of carriages through the system.
“From a durability point of view steel is ultimately almost the only way to go. So, we have a steel wheel on steel rail to give us maximum durability of the carriage as well as the track.” – Bradley Smith, Project Engineer, Magway
The carriages themselves are lightweight plastic with a steel carriage and wheel structure that does not contain a motor or battery. Instead, they are propelled by linear synchronous magnetic motors that are installed in the structure of the track. Mounted to each carriage is an array of extremely high-strength permanent magnets. This array is then propelled forward by a magnetic wave that repels the magnets in the carriage.
The magnetic wave of electrical current is powered directly from the grid and the lack of moving parts in the drive train keeps the operating and maintenance costs very low.
Tried and trusted
While the company was set up just three years ago, Magway’s technology has already been through various iterations, with an early monorail model eventually being scrapped in favour of the dual rail system. The thinking behind this decision is part of the fundamental ethos behind Magway’s design – using tried and trusted technology to realise an innovative new system.
Bradley Smith is Project Engineer for Magway, and, for him, performance and reliability are key. “From a construction point of view our view is to make this out of known technology,” he says.
“Sustainability is everything we’re about, we’re always looking to use materials which can be fully recycled.” – Bradley Smith, Project Engineer, Magway
“From a durability point of view steel is ultimately almost the only way to go. So, we have a steel wheel on steel rail to give us maximum durability of the carriage as well as the track. With respect to rail, we’ve tried with a couple of materials. We’ve tried aluminium and we just don’t get the durability. The steel rail is incredibly easy to work with – it bends easily, and it’s highly durable.”
Steel also forms a crucial part of the linear motor system embedded in Magway’s track, with a 7kg steel core with three copper windings constituting the coil. This coil is combined with silicon laminations which boost steel’s natural speed and efficiency at producing and maintaining magnetic fields.
Steel’s unique electromagnetic qualities and its durability are at the centre of the Magway system, with Smith stressing that, “It’s not unheard of for motors to go for 10 or 15 years.”
Magway intend for an installation to have a lifetime of between 50 to 80 years as a minimum, but also plan for decommissioning and recycling when looking at design – another area where steel performs well as a material due to its infinite recyclability.
“Sustainability is everything we’re about,” says Smith, “we’re always looking to use materials which can be fully recycled.”
Changing the world
Magway are confident that they have a sound, scalable solution to the rise in ecommerce needs. The technology on which it is based is tried and tested, installations have a long lifetime and low maintenance requirements, and they can be easily integrated with existing systems.
While current delivery fleets are predominantly diesel powered, there is a shift towards electric vehicles as a ‘last-mile’ solution. However, the term ‘last-mile’ is often a misnomer as the trip from consolidation centres to homes is up to 50 miles.
It this gap that the Magway system intends to close, bringing it to within just five miles. From this range, delivery companies can easily utilise cleaner technology to power their fleets. Magway will continue to outperform electric vehicles in terms of efficiency, however, as it does not rely on battery technology.
The fact that the system runs directly from the grid also means that as renewables continue to form a larger part of nations’ energy generation, the environmental impacts of the system will reduce further.
While Magway is initially slated for rollout in the UK, Davies underlines that, “many of the challenges that we face here are shared in terms of sustainability. The environment, congestion, road maintenance and road safety costs are worldwide issues.
“We’ve toured to Singapore, the UAE, North America and Europe so we’re confident that we can deliver and roll out Magway internationally.”
While its impacts on congestion, cost and efficiency are central to Magway’s appeal, for Davies the environmental aspects will always be the driving factor. “Sustainability runs through everything we do,” he says.
“Magway’s faster, safer, cheaper, and most importantly greener, than other alternatives. We think what we’re doing here is not just changing the game; it’s changing the world.”