A generous University of Wisconsin alum funded the first Wempec training lab in Madison in the mid-1980s. Now, the Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Electronics Consortium, begun on campus in 1981, is updating it. The new laboratory should be fully operational by spring. A "teaching studio," as professor Robert Lorenz calls it, the lab will have five stations with drives on which students will study the characteristics of seven motor varieties.
Several newcomers, including permanent magnet (both interior and surface mounted magnet types), switched reluctance, and brushless dc motors will be joining the classic ac induction, dc, and wound synchronous machines on the test benches. ABB has donated five drives for the lab, joining a donor roll that includes Rockwell Automation Danfoss and Yaskawa Electric Americas.
Today, much of the lab's core work receives industry sponsorship, with most of it going for "pre-competitive research," Lorenz says. "We do fundamental work which usually doesn't show up in products for about ten years," he adds.
Among the technologies born at Wempec, resonant dc links—which resonate a circuit to reduce switching losses dramatically—have become a standard in industry, Lorenz says. The lab developed self sensing motors, also.
About 20 percent of the students pursuing advanced degrees at Wempec come into the program as MEs, he says, not at all surprising considering about a third of a motor design actually concerns electromagnetics. The other two-thirds, he says, involve managing mechanical forces and dissipating heat. These students have a solid understanding of electrical machines by the time they finish the program, he says.
Wempec staff and students flank ABB's Kalyan Gokhale (in tie), and co-directors Thomas Lipo (in blue shirt) and Robert Lupoz (to his left), during the presentation of new drives for the laboratory. The students had the drives out of their cartons and into test benches shortly after this photo was taken.
Increasingly, motors are being integrated into machine designs, from appliances to autos. Future designers will use integrated power converters even more than they do today, he predicts.
For working engineers wanting to get a leg up on that future, the consortium offers distance learning for all courses through a PhD—except the advanced labs. For those, off-site students visit the Wisconsin campus for 3 week summer stints—about all the time off managers will permit these days.