MechSE tackles tough manufacturing problems
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a long, distinguished history and tradition in mechanical and applied engineering sciences, and the university will soon celebrate the opening of a long-planned, multi-million-dollar expansion to its Mechanical Engineering Building.
Illinois has been home to many notable alumni that excelled as entrepreneurs, creating companies such as Netscape, Advanced Micro Devices, PayPal, Oracle, Lotus Software, YouTube, and Tesla Motors, to name a few.
As part of the face-lift, MechSE’s Transform MEB campaign includes a $12 million donation from alumnus Sidney Lu (BSME ‘81), chairman and CEO of computer and smartphone manufacturer Foxconn Interconnect (Taiwan), which builds Apple iPads and iPhones.
The east wing addition will be known as the Sidney Lu Center for Learning and Innovation. This project includes a five-story addition to the east of the MEB, a single-story addition to the north, and 66,000 sq. ft. of existing space re-imagined, re-engineered, and optimized for education, innovation, and community, according to Illinois.
Besides the expansion, in October 2017 MechSE announced that the university was awarded a Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) by the National Science Foundation, with the center supported by a six-year, $15.6-million grant focusing on new nanomaterials. This announcement followed the NSF awarding the university $18.5 million for a new NSF Engineering Research Center led by MechSE Professor Andrew Alleyne. That center, called the Power Optimization for Electro-Thermal Systems (POETS), focuses on the thermal and electrical challenges surrounding mobile electronics and vehicle design as a single system.
“We want to increase the total power density in vehicles by 10 to 100 times. That would translate into billions of liters of fuel saved and nearly double an electric car’s range,” said Alleyne, the Ralph and Catherine Fisher Professor in MechSE, in a statement. “Today’s electrical technologies are at their thermal limit. A systems approach is the only way we’ll push beyond the current state of the art.”
In a recent discussion with Manufacturing Engineering, Placid Ferreira, the Tungchao Julia Lu Professor and the former MechSE department head, and Shiv Kapoor, the Grayce Wicall Gauthier Chair and professor of mechanical science and engineering, described the broad-based scope of research at the department.
“We are called MechSE, for Mechanical Science and Engineering, because some time ago the mechanical engineering department and the theoretical and applied mechanics department joined together,” Ferreira said. “The department spans mechanical sciences and mechanical engineering, going from the more fundamental—the theoretical basis for mechanical engineering such as mechanics, transport phenomena, solid mechanics, fluid mechanics, control theory, kinematics, dynamics—to more applied areas such as IC engines, mechatronics, air conditioning and refrigeration, robotics, manufacturing processes, manufacturing systems, biomechanics, and materials behavior.
“It’s a very wide group, and in this ecosystem of mechanical sciences and engineering, manufacturing plays a rather important role, both from the manufacturing processes aspects and the manufacturing systems aspects,” Ferreira continued. “We tap into the theoretical expertise within the department in things like solid mechanics, solidification processes in terms of dynamics and controls. We bring those things down into modeling or manufacturing processes, design of machine tools, and control of manufacturing processes. We even go into cloud manufacturing. We take the computational sciences aspects and get into the simulation of manufacturing processes.”
This broad approach takes advantage of the expertise in the department, encompassing various manufacturing disciplines, such as computational fluid dynamics for process modeling and simulation, Ferreira added. “[This helps us] understand the material behavior when we are looking at the machining process, for example, and also where we are heading in these areas on the manufacturing systems cloud; we call it cyber systems.”
Cloud and Cyberphysical Manufacturing Advances
With Illinois’ history of computer research and simulation resources, the MechSE Department can leverage the availability of supercomputer power, located both at the university campus and elsewhere in the U.S. The university hosts the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), which created Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser.
“When you come to Illinois, you realize that with its history, it’s had a very long contribution to manufacturing from researchers who did the first analyses of thermal aspects in machining,” said Kapoor, noting the importance of such experiments on cutting tools and on the thermal science of the machining process. Kapoor, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Manufacturing Processes, Ferreira, and other professors at Northwestern University have three ongoing projects with the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII; Chicago) at UI Labs.
“In one project, we’re developing what’s known as an operating system for cyberphysical manufacturing,” Ferreira said. “In another project, we are working with Caterpillar and Missouri Science and Technology to reduce variability of machining processes. And then in a third project, we’re developing a framework for uncertainty quantification and uncertainty reduction in die-casting processes.”
In the case of the cyberphysical operating system project, Ferreira said the group is only about a year into the research but its leaders have begun asking others to bring in their machine tools to work with the operating system.
Collaborating with industry pays off immensely in advancing research and getting new technologies into the market. “We’re working with industrial partners, like Caterpillar and others, on so many levels,” said Ferreira, citing the major contributions of earlier researchers at Illinois, such as B.T. Chao, Kenneth Trigger, Klaus J. Weinmann, Subbiah Ramalingam, and more recently, Shiv Kapoor. “They created things that were widely used in industry, tangible models of machining processes that industry could actually apply and use and try to figure out what forces to expect during machining and how different errors would expose themselves through the process mechanics to the surface finish.”
Much of the university research started with solving problems encountered by automotive suppliers and OEMs. “We started the work with Ford, GM, and their suppliers,” he said. “We also have Caterpillar, John Deere, and then the machine tool builders, very early working with Ingersoll, the milling machine company, DMG Mori, and others.”
For about 12 years, MechSE also ran a center focusing on machining and machine tool systems. Ferreira was director of the Nanoscale Chemical-Electrical-Mechanical Manufacturing Systems-NSF Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center (Nano-CEMMS), from 2003-2010, and he is currently an affiliate of the Micro-Nanotechnology Laboratory at Illinois.
“We transitioned from there to the micro and the nano manufacturing era, where Illinois has been a leader,” Ferreira said. “We had a fairly large center that specifically set out to define all manufacturing at the nanoscale, and we took a lot of processes down to micromachining, microforming, and micro EDM.”
For the original story, visit advancedmanufacturing.org.