22 April 2015 11:13

Engineers from Lancaster University are helping an adventure sports business to scale new heights by developing the next generation of climbing walls.

Specialists in designing and manufacturing bespoke climbing walls throughout the UK, King Kong Climbing, based at Keswick in the Lake District, approached Lancaster University’s Engineering Department to help them develop the latest concept in climbing walls – illuminated routes.

Traditional climbing walls use moulded holds that are costly to replace when devising new routes. The holds can also become discoloured over time because of the chalk climbers use to gain additional grip.

The latest idea is to use lights that are embedded within the holds to create routes for climbers to follow. This innovative system enables climbing wall owners to programme several routes of different grades up the same wall and gives climbers the option to select routes at a difficulty suitable for their skills.

Paul Cornforth, managing director of King Kong Climbing, said: “Illuminated holds are a very exciting new idea in climbing walls and it is an area we have been looking at in order to grow our business. However, it is very important to us that we are able to manufacture any new products in such a way that will appeal to a range of clients – price per hold was paramount throughout this project.

“We were looking at a system produced by an external company but the cost of their system was prohibitive and so we started looking for alternatives.”

Students from Lancaster University’s Engineering Department took up the challenge by carefully analysing the product requirements and then devising three possible solutions. Following feedback from King Kong Climbing the students, who are in their fourth year of study, carried out design development and produced a fully-working prototype. The LEDs are fitted into the climbing wall behind translucent holds and can be programmed from a computer on the ground below.

“Although there are illuminated climbing walls out there, there is nothing quite like this. Our system can enable all of the colours of the LEDs to change to identify different routes. The holds also help to light up dark corners – which can be an issue for indoor climbing walls that are irregularly shaped. Visually the system looks very striking.”

King Kong Climbing has installed the system into a demonstrator wall at its Keswick headquarters and the company is aiming for it to reach the market in around six months’ time.

Dr Steve Monk from Lancaster University’s Engineering Department said: “This was an excellent learning opportunity for the student team to apply their knowledge in a commercial context. This provides our students with a real-world perspective which helps their transition from university into graduate-level employment.

“The team approached the project professionally and enthusiastically from the outset. It is great to see that the final designs and a prototype will help to add value to a growing business.”

The project was the 100th project that Lancaster University’s Engineering Design Academy has worked on with external businesses.

Funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), with matched funding from Lancaster University as well as from private sector partners, the academy is a resource available for growth-hungry SMEs who have received less than €200,000 of public funding within the last three financial years and that are based in Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester or Lancashire.

Businesses benefit from the academy in a range of ways such as accessing students, graduates, engineers, as well as facilities and equipment.

For more information about Lancaster University’s Product Development Unit visit http://www.engineering.lancs.ac.uk/

Businesses who would like to access the Engineering Design Academy should contact the Project Manager, Chris Lambert, on 01524 594298 or by emailing c.g.lambert@lancaster.ac.uk