PURSUING THE PERFECT POLYMER
Despite the strong growth and ubiquity of plastic products, the plastics industry continually faces new customer demands, furious global competition, spiraling oil prices and growing environmental concerns. To meet these challenges, five mechanical engineering faculty are building on the college's history of research excellence in polymer engineering by forming the Engineering Polymer Industrial Consortium (EPIC) and Polymer Engineering Center (PEC).
Professors Tim Osswald, A. Jeffrey Giacomin, Robert Rowlands and Assistant Professors Lih Sheng (Tom) Turng and Yuri Shkel will combine their interests and expertise ranging from traditional polymers and conventional processes, to smart materials, composites, innovative processes, advanced modeling, simulation and Internet/Web-based tools for design and manufacturing.
Establishing the consortium will leverage the efforts of the plastics industry to improve its productivity and profitability by collectively developing innovative technologies and embracing emerging opportunities.
STUDENTS TAKING CONTROLS
Students taking Professor Neil Duffie's motion controls course ME 447 took advantage of three new hydraulic training systems donated by Parker Hannifin Corporation in 2001. The company donated $100,000 to equip the new controls laboratory located in Room 180, Mechanical Engineering Building. Students use the equipment to apply knowledge of mathematics and science in engineering practice to design control components that meet the needs of mechanical, thermal, fluid and manufacturing systems.
In addition to hydraulics, the laboratory includes pneumatic and electromechanical components. Together, these components provide opportunities for hands-on experience with control hardware and software that improve students' ability to identify, formulate and solve engineering problems.
COMPUTER MODEL IS THE ORIGIN OF EFFICIENCY
Post-doctorate engineer Peter Senecal is taking a Darwinian approach to engine modeling using genetic algorithms to simultaneously increase fuel efficiency and reduce pollution. Senecal created a natural selection system to help sort through literally billions of combinations of factors that determine engine performance a task too enormous for conventional computer simulations. "The most important advance is in improving pollution emissions without sacrificing fuel efficiency and vice versa," says Senecal. "Normally, engine designers who concentrate on solving one problem end up with major tradeoffs in the other."
The results to date have been dramatic. Using a Silicon Graphics supercomputer at UW-Madison's Engine Research Center, Senecal created a diesel engine design that reduces nitric oxide emissions by three-fold and soot emissions by 50 percent over the best available technology. At the same time, the model reduced fuel consumption by 15 percent.
Professor Rolf Reitz, Senecal's PhD thesis advisor, says the computer model is extremely versatile and could be used for all types of engines. While current work focuses on questions like fuel injection and air intake, studies of engine hardware are just beginning.