Engineering Ideas for Tomorrow -- College of Engineering 1997 Annual Report
Mechanical Engineering
College of Engineering 1997 Annual Report -- Engineering Ideas for Tomorrow

Kenneth W. Ragland (Chair)
240 Mechanical Engineering
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Madison, WI 53706-1572
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Superconductivity team seeks cool solutions to reducing costs, bettering performance

  Supercool Solutions
Superconductivity experiment

With a grant from the UW-System Applied Research Grant Program, a research group led by Assistant Professor John M. Pfotenhauer is helping American Superconductor Corp. (formerly Superconductivity, Inc.) save money and improve the performance of its top product. "By incorporating a set of high-temperature superconducting [HTS] current leads into the micro-SMES superconducting magnet system, we should reduce capital and operating costs of the unit, as well as improve its reliability," says Pfotenhauer. Current leads connect room-temperature power to the liquid-helium-cooled superconducting magnet. Pfotenhauer and the company have both been studying and developing HTS leads over the past several years and are now combining their expertise. Pfotenhauer's research pays specific attention to heat transfer in liquid helium, superconductor stability, and cryocooler refrigeration. "The variety of topics is reflective of the different requirements for cooling today's low-temperature and high-temperature superconductors," he explains. Through his work, Pfotenhauer (far left) addresses the complex balance between heat generation, cooling and superconducting properties by researching current leads and composite superconductor components. Preparing a test are graduate student Jonathan Lawrence (seated) and instrumentation technologist Orrin Lokken (53K JPG).

With a wave of the hand and a few commands, virtual technology cuts design time

With funding from the National Science Foundation, Assistant Professor Rajit Gadh's team has developed a virtual design studio ( that has the potential to help engineers make a faster transition from design to production. The studio's primary piece of equipment is a 60-inch adjustable inclined screen that looks much like a conventional drafting table. Wearing glasses that provide a 3-D image and gloves that enable the user to move objects on the screen, designers will be able to modify a product within minutes rather than hours, says Gadh. "We're trying to bring very natural qualities to the design process, rather than using a keyboard and mouse pad," he adds. The team is currently creating "interface definitions" that help the computer recognize voice and movement commands needed for design work. Additionally, the researchers have developed a "geometric modeler" that allows the hand and voice commands to be carried out in real time. In spring 1997, Gadh demonstrated the technology to representatives from several major industries including automakers, aerospace companies and federal laboratories.

Engine Research Center seeks to triple automobile fuel efficiency

UW-Madison's Engine Research Center (ERC) has received a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to help produce conventional automobiles that can get 80 mpg-- approximately three times the current average--by the year 2004. The project is part of the Clinton administration's Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, which includes all three U.S. car manufacturers. Professor Rolf D. Reitz, who is leading the engine simulation and testing project, says the college's research will focus on how to reduce diesel engine emissions to acceptable levels while maintaining their impressive fuel efficiency. In recent years the ERC has done just that with heavy-duty diesel engines used in machinery, semi trucks and defense equipment. "The diesel engine is the most efficient engine in the world," says Reitz. "No other engine offers even the hope of reaching 80 miles per gallon." The ERC will conduct the tests on its supercomputer as well as on diesel engines donated by European automobile manufacturers, including Fiat. "The 80 mpg goal is only seven years away, so it makes sense to work with diesel engines over some unproven technology," says Reitz.

Graduate student's research efforts to improve engine performance

Under the guidance of Professor Jay K. Martin, graduate student Brad Tillock was involved in a project that may help manufacturers produce more-efficient engines that can be designed, developed and validated more rapidly. Tillock's research was part of a project sponsored by the Wisconsin Small Engine Consortium to better understand air-cooled engine heat transfer. Using engine cycle simulation, experimental data and finite element models, researchers developed methods to look at temperature distributions and heat flow paths in an engine. The project is still going on and sub-models of the original methodology are being developed. "A thermal analysis methodology used in the engine development stage can help industry predict what effects design changes may have on an engine before expenditures are made in tooling and in testing," explains Tillock. "The knowledge that comes with model development and use will open up more doors to what is possible in the area of small engine operation." Tillock received an MS in mechanical engineering in May 1997 and now works as a test engineer for Harley-Davidson Inc.

Copyright 1997 University System Board of Regents

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Date last modified: 02-Oct-1997
Date created: 2-Oct-1997

1997 Annual Report Contents