College of Engineering University of Wisconsin-Madison
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ME: The Mechanical Engineering Department Newsletter


The ME Newsletter
Fall-Winter 2005-2006

Featured articles

Tiny bubbles in the melt: Study could lead to more energy efficient alloys

ME curriculum undergoes redesign

3M Foundation makes $1.6 million gift to MEIE Building Project

WEMPEC lab renovated to enhance student learning

Latest student design team vehicle fueled by human power

Focus on new faculty: Assistant Professor Kevin Turner

Regular Features

Message from the chair

Faculty News /
In the News

Student News

Alumni News: Distinguished Achievement Award Recipient Jim Berbee




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WEMPEC lab renovated to enhance student learning

WEMPEC's newly renovated Grainger Laboratory

WEMPEC's newly renovated Grainger Laboratory. From left: Electrical & computer engineering master’s student Korwin Anderson, Dean Paul Peercy, ME and ECE Professor Robert Lorenz, and Rockwell Automation’s Ken Phillips, Rich Lukaszewski and Jon Simons. Rockwell Automation is one of the lab’s supporters.
(View larger image)

Decorative initial cap Seated at a computer in the teaching laboratory of the Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Electronics Consortium (WEMPEC), a student launches a software program and enters a voltage value when prompted. Several feet away, a motor drive attached to a lab bench blinks on and the motor it controls whirs to life. The student watches as lines representing the motor’s speed and current inch diagonally upward across the computer screen and then level off. When they do, he sends data from the test to a spreadsheet, and inputs another voltage to begin the process again.

Fully automated experiments like this one are now possible thanks to a major new upgrade of the Grainger Electric Machines and Power Electronics Laboratory—the official name of WEMPEC’s teaching space. When the renovation wraps up this coming spring, five workstations will each sport seven different types of motors. And students will be able to operate each motor using any one of a set of state-of-the-art, commercial motor drives.

Most importantly, the entire array of technologies will be connected though a sophisticated software program and computer interface, allowing students to run computer-controlled experiments, quickly compare data from tests involving different motors and drive control methods, and overlay theoretical and experimental results.

“This lab will have an unprecedented level of both integration and automation, which means we can do a lot of experiments we could only dream of before,” says Consolidated Papers Professor of Controls Engineering Robert Lorenz, who co-directs WEMPEC with Grainger Professor of Power Electronics and Electrical Machines Thomas Lipo. “Automation also gives students more time to think, and faculty and teaching assistants the time and sophisticated approaches needed to teach in depth.”

Each year, more than 200 undergraduates carry out experiments in the Grainger Laboratory for their courses in electrical machines, power conversion, and power electronics. Often they do lab work right after a lecture period, says Lorenz, giving them an immediate sense of the applications and limits of the theoretical concepts presented in class. The facility also supports graduate-level classes and three-week short-courses for people in industry.

Most of the lab renovation was funded by UW-Madison alumnus David Grainger and The Grainger Foundation. The two-and-a-half-year project included development of the laboratory’s conceptual design in collaboration with a WEMPEC colleague at the University of Rome. This summer and fall, industry engineer Randy Gascoigne and master’s students Shreesha Adiga and Korwin Anderson have been busily installing and integrating the laboratory’s hardware and software.

In addition, Rockwell Automation and other leading companies, including ABB, Inc., Danfoss and Yaskawa Electric America, donated the latest in commercial motor drives and machines. “We know our ability to offer students a deep immersion in both theory and lab work prepares them for leading engineering jobs in industry,” says Lorenz. “So, having little-to-no distance between this school and the workplace is of paramount importance.”

One class this fall is already using the new equipment. When the facility is fully operational in the spring, a full complement of courses will be taught there. Even then, the laboratory’s evolution into what Lorenz calls a “teaching studio” won’t be quite complete. The next phase will involve integrating numerical tools, such as finite element analysis, with experimental data generated by the equipment, so that students can understand their relationship.

“This is a collaboration to educate people in our field,” says Jon Simons, Technology Director for Rockwell Automation’s Standard Drives group. “We view it as our responsibility to help teach the engineers who will eventually come to work in our industry. And it’s important for the students to have access to the latest, state-of-the-art equipment. It enhances the experience.”

True to WEMPEC’s mission, the educational project has taken place in the full spirit of cooperation between the university and industry.


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Copyright 2006 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Date last modified: Monday, 9-January-2006 15:43:00 CDT
Date created: 9-January-2006



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