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Small engine consortium meets needs of Wisconsin industry

Jaal B. Ghandhi

Jaal B. Ghandhi
(22K JPG)

Phil Pierce and Brian Albert

From left: Phil Pierce, staff engineering for the Harley-Davidson Motor Co., works with graduate student Brian Albert in a laboratory devoted to small engine research. (Photo: Greg Anderson) (25K JPG)

Wisconsin has long been known for the world-class quality of its small-engine manufacturers. Companies such as Harley-Davidson, Inc., Briggs and Stratton, and the Mercury Marine Division of Brunswick Corp., are recognized for the quality of their products.

So where do small engine industry leaders turn to for help in finding the next generation of engine technology? The Small Engine Consortium at the UW-Madison College of Engineering, which is at the forefront of efforts to develop cleaner-running and more efficient engines.

The consortium (Briggs and Stratton, Harley-Davidson, Mercury Marine, Fleetguard, Inc., and the Kohler Co.) is celebrating its 10th year of operations, having begun in 1993 through a mix of state grants and industrial support. The idea behind the consortium is to keep Wisconsin's small engine industry competitive by funding research into new engine technology.

Much of the research, based at the College's Engine Research Center, focuses on what Associate Professor Jaal Ghandhi calls "pre-competitive" research.

Wisconsin's small engine companies spend considerable time developing and marketing their products, Ghandhi said. But none of them on their own can sustain the kind of research effort needed to develop new methods of running and developing engines.

"We're not solving anyone's problems," Ghandhi said. "What we're trying to do is provide research and a knowledge base in this area that companies might not otherwise be able to do."

Through use of computer modeling and engine analysis, Ghandhi said the consortium tackles a number of challenges facing the industry. Among its current projects, consortium researchers are:

  • Looking for ways to make the engines on household lawnmowers run cooler. Lawnmower engines generate lots of heat, which eventually wears on the performance of engine parts such as pistons and crankshafts. Cooler engines last longer and perform better. "In an air-cooled engine, that's everything," Ghandhi said. "How do you get rid of all that heat?"
  • Developing non-intrusive piston temperature measurements. Gauging the temperature of an engine is important, Ghandhi said, but it can't be done at the expense of making it run less efficiently. Ghandhi is working with Assistant Professor Xiaochun Li on developing fiber optic sensors for temperature measurements.
  • Reducing particulate emissions from two-stroke, direct injection engines such as outboard motors.
  • Finding ways to increase combustion stability in the face of residual gas — a key issue for a company like Harley-Davidson that manufacturers engines built for powerful performance.
  • Working on models to find out what exactly happens to fuel when it flows between the fuel tank and the carburetor.
  • Studying the "high-temperature creep" of aluminum alloys in air-cooled engines like lawnmowers. Engines that run hot, like lawnmower engines, can produce long-term instability in parts made of aluminum alloys that can hinder engine performance.
  • Developing laser-based techniques to monitor in-cylinder fuel flows.

Harley-Davidson's Phil Pierce, a staff engineer with the company, said the work of the small engine consortium is invaluable for the state's industry. He and others from the company often visit the consortium's laboratories and meet regularly with researchers on their work.

"It's just an opportunity for us to develop some diagnostic tools and do some fundamental research that we can't easily do in our own facilities," he said. "We're fortunate to have this kind of research center in the state, given that there are so many manufacturers here in Wisconsin."

Ghandhi added that the consortium also helps fill a research niche that might otherwise be overlooked. Much of the national research spending on engines focus on the automotive and truck industry or heavy industrial diesel engines.

"The small engine research can be neglected," Ghandhi said. "We are addressing problems that are special to this industry that wouldn't really be looked at from a research standpoint otherwise."


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Date last modified: Friday, 15-Aug-2003 09:37:00 CDT
Date created: 09-Jul-2003

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