Caterpillar Electro-Mechanical Systems Laboratory
Caterpillar Inc. of Peoria Illinois has agreet to sponsor the development of an interdisciplinary laboratory within the College of Engineering. The broad vision of this laboratory is to undertake a novel approach to University research and education in the field of Electromechanical Systems. Most of the work presently being done in this area focuses on individual electromechanical components. These efforts have spawned the term "Mechatronics" to describe them. Mechatronics, as it is presently thought of, describes the interface of mechanical elements with digital computational power to develop a smart device. Much of the present University activity centers on the design, interface, and control of these individual components. The coordination of several different components has not received as much attention. The Systems approach that will be taken in this laboratory will focus on the individual components as well as the interconnection between different components.
Caterpillar designs and produces a very complex product. Part of the vision is to develop machines that have some level of intelligence built in. To do this, several components of the machine have to communicate with each other and coordinate their activities to get the most out of their available resources. As an example, consider the engine which provides the power to the whole machine. That power is used by the transmission/drive system, the implement system, steering system, cooling system, etc. A truly intelligent machine would have the ability to coordinate the demands of the individual subsystems so as to make maximal use of the engine output. Conversely, use the minimum amount of engine power (fuel efficiency) to complete the necessary tasks. Finally, this must all be done in a manner that is transparent to the driver and does not compromise the performance required. It is this type of system integration approach that will drive the education and research in the proposed CAT Laboratory.
The plan for the Lab is to design, construct, and analyze multi-component systems that have diverse, interconnected elements. To emphasize the Systems approach, these experiments will be composed of subcomponents that operate in different media. In reality, a CAT machine has components that are thermo-mechanical (engine), hydraulic (transmission/implement), electronic (valve drivers), and mechanical (linkages). The importance of this diversity will be emphasized in the EMS Lab.
The emerging laboratory will be novel. The educational benefits are going to be applicable to a wide range of students and courses throughout the UIUC College of Engineering. Presently there does not exist the capability to demonstrate component interdependency effects on overall system behavior in any of the existing facilities; particularly from a system theoretic point of view. This is true of most, if not all, other universities across the country. The educational aspects of the Lab would give UIUC students a distinct advantage when they go to industry. In addition to the educational aspects, the Lab would also open up interesting and fruitful research endeavors. An obvious area would be powertrain system dynamics, modeling, simulation, and control.