Within the defence sector there has often been the challenge of data being managed in a siloed manner. In parallel, in the emerging world of digital twins (DT), the potential benefits come from integration across systems, and being able to integrate data across different functions, software solutions, and people is one of the main stumbling blocks. DT, a dynamic digital representation of a real entity or process, is a way to reach the dynamic optimisation of complex engineering assets and processes.

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Optimisation is achievable through the interaction between the physical asset/process and the high-fidelity twin model, which supports the asset throughout the continuous evolution over time. One of the main issues concerning complex engineering assets/processes is the interoperability of tools and stakeholders operating around those assets/processes. Developing Digital Twins through the ontology approach enhances the flexibility and extensibility of those systems. The ontology is a collection of terms, relational expressions, and definitions, which allows a high-fidelity description of the asset or process of interest and its operation. This PhD will explore ways to bring together interoperability enabling approaches with data management.

This PhD will aim to develop a platform for data management, where the boundaries of data are removed and communication between different sources and users of data can be enabled in an adaptive manner. The research will involve creating a novel mechanism to access data, to structure it, to federate it, and to share it with relevant stakeholders in an efficient and effective manner using ontologies and blockchain technology linked to DTs. The objectives to the PhD include:

  • Establish an optimisation framework to trade-off between data requirements, data accessibility and availability, data connectivity and value generation.
  • Develop an ontology architecture that is used to provide a template for information exchange between different systems/functional units. 
  • Create a blockchain module to enable secured data flow within complex systems.
  • Build the data backbone within digital twins with autonomous and adaptive data feed for alternative stakeholder requirements.

PhD timeline The PhD can start at any point across the year. The PhD will be conducted in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Capture current practice and develop conceptual solution.
    • Deliverable 1: Literature review, and conceptualised data configuration platform.
  • Phase 2: Solution development.
    • Deliverable 2: Ontology and blockchain enabled software platform for data management in digital twins.
  • Phase 3: Validation, verification and dissemination.
    • Deliverable 3: Finalised software solution and handover with training of relevant stakeholders.

Cranfield University is wholly postgraduate, and is famous for its applied research in close collaboration with Industry. At Cranfield, the candidate will be based within the Manufacturing theme at the Centre for Digital Engineering and Manufacturing (CDEM). The Centre hosts cutting-edge simulation and visualisation facilities. The student will have access to high-end computers for simulating the complex nature of maintenance. There will be relevant visits to Costain (as the Industrial Sponsor of the project) in particular but also various other organisations throughout the PhD to develop and demonstrate the research. This PhD is offering a fully funded PhD thanks to the EPSRC ICASE scheme, and Costain.

There are numerous benefits proposed through this PhD:

  • Establish interoperability of software systems by establishing flexible data connectivity.
  • Enhanced confidence in simulations and associated decision-making capability.
  • Reduced costs with improved understanding of resources and mechanisms for value delivery.

What makes this PhD special?

  1. Fully funded PhD with extensive funding available for travel not only in the UK but also internationally; we also have an exciting consumables budget to conduct the research.
  2. Applied research, which brings together Costain and Cranfield University to address significant and current challenges around digital twins.
  3. We have allocated funding to enable training through internal and external courses, which will substantially enhance the PhD experience.
  4. Both Cranfield and Costain are leading organisations in their fields, and the PhD will open up numerous career opportunities.

The student will gain from the experience in numerous ways, whether it be transferable skills in the technical area of optimisation, or soft skills including presentation skills, project management, and communication skills. There are also numerous employability opportunities that the PhD will offer whether it be in Industry or in Academia.

At a glance

  • Application deadline26 Aug 2022
  • Award type(s)PhD
  • Start dateAs soon as possible
  • Duration of award4 years
  • EligibilityUK
  • Reference numberSATM297

Entry requirements

We are inviting applicants with a First or upper Second Class degree equivalent qualification in an engineering background, or an alternative quantitative focused discipline.


This is a fully-funded opportunity.

This studentship is open to UK applications.

Sponsored by EPSRC and Costain, this studentship will provide a bursary of up to £18,000-£21,000 (tax free) plus fees* for three years.

Cranfield Doctoral Network

Research students at Cranfield benefit from being part of a dynamic, focused and professional study environment and all become valued members of the Cranfield Doctoral Network. This network brings together both research students and staff, providing a platform for our researchers to share ideas and collaborate in a multi-disciplinary environment. It aims to encourage an effective and vibrant research culture, founded upon the diversity of activities and knowledge. A tailored programme of seminars and events, alongside our Doctoral Researchers Core Development programme (transferable skills training), provide those studying a research degree with a wealth of social and networking opportunities.

How to apply

For further information please contact:

Name: Professor John Erkoyuncu
Email: j.a.erkoyuncu@cranfield.ac.uk

If you are eligible to apply for this studentship, please complete the online application form.