Tech Part of New $21 Million Research Center

NSF announces grant to support a new engineering research center for fluid power

Discovering ways to reduce fuel consumption, developing devices for people with mobility impairments and designing state-of-the-art rescue robots are just three of the goals of a new $21 million engineering research center that will include Georgia Tech.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced a $15 million, five-year grant to support the new Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power. Industry partners will augment NSF funding with $3 million, and seven universities involved in the center, including Georgia Tech, will contribute an additional $3 million. The center will be based at the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus.

"This center will advance fundamental knowledge, providing a platform for technology that will spawn new industries. We are impressed with the ambitious goals of the center for research and education and the strong partnership with industry," said Lynn Preston, leader of the Engineering Research Centers Program at NSF.

Fluid-power technology encompasses most applications that use liquids or gases to transmit power in the form of pressurized fluid. The complexity of these systems ranges from a simple hydraulic jack used to lift your car when replacing a tire to sophisticated airplane flight control actuators that rely on high-pressure hydraulic systems.

Fluid power is a $33 billion industry worldwide. Industry areas include aerospace, agriculture, construction, health care, manufacturing, mining and transportation. With help from the National Fluid Power Association, more than 50 companies have agreed to provide support for the research center.

"The challenges and opportunities in fluid power have been amplified by the inactivity of universities in recent decades. Forward looking industry leaders have seeded efforts at Georgia Tech and elsewhere, but the NSF recognition of the transformational opportunities for efficient fluid power drives of advanced devices was needed to spur on a new generation of researchers with interdisciplinary talents," said Wayne Book, the HUSCO/Ramirez Distinguished Professor of Fluid Power and Motion Control in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech, director of the Fluid Power and Motion Control Center and the leader of the Georgia Tech team for the ERC.

Researchers at the center will study ways to use fluid power more efficiently in manufacturing, agriculture, construction and mining. Each 10 percent improvement in efficiency of current uses of fluid power in these industries will save about $7 billion a year in U.S. energy costs. Researchers will also work to develop hydraulic hybrid passenger cars that are less expensive and more efficient than current electric hybrids. A 10 percent improvement in efficiency in national passenger-car energy use will save about $10 billion a year.

Another goal of the research center is to develop portable, wearable and autonomous fluid-power devices capable of operating for long periods of time without external energy sources. This technology could lead to new medical and rehabilitation devices and robots that could be used in rescue missions.

A range of obstacles will be tackled by the new center to enable such devices. At Georgia Tech, Richard Salant, a professor of mechanical engineering, will lead a project to minimize leakage by understanding the complex interactions among fluids, metals and sealing materials and to incorporate the understanding in analysis for computer-aided design of seals.

Ken Cunefare, a professor of mechanical engineering and an acoustician with a research emphasis in noise control, will work to find ways to reduce the noise of fluid power, one of the primary deterrents to fluid power's use in the applications of the future.

Chris Paredis, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a specialist in the theory and methods of design, will examine the combination of many interdisciplinary analyses and how they can be introduced into a multi-phased design process.

Wayne Book, who specializes in robotic controls, will research improvements in the human interface to hydraulic and pneumatic machines so that the machines can be more easily controlled to reduce training time and task time and to minimize errors.

In addition to research, the center will be involved in developing youth education programs, improving efforts to increase student diversity in engineering, designing internship and exchange programs for undergraduate and graduate students, and offering short courses and labs for industry workers.

Other core universities involved in the center include University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Purdue University and Vanderbilt University.