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Transforming Fluid Power

Transforming Fluid Power

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced it will award the Engineering Research Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) a four-year, $16 million grant, enabling the Center to continue its efforts in transforming how fluid power is researched and taught.

"The CCEFP has already made landmark breakthroughs," says Dr. Kim Stelson, director of the Center. "The Center has transformed hydraulic and pneumatic research in this country from isolated efforts by a few to a cohesive, strategically directed collaborative team linking seven universities and many leaders in the fluid power industry."

As part of its systems vision, the CCEFP is strategically researching different powers and weights of fluid power systems using four test beds ranging from mobile heavy equipment to human-assist devices. Recently, a decision has been made to add two new projects, one larger in scale and the other smaller than any of the current test beds.

A focus on wind power will research use of hydrostatic transmissions for wind power generators, a major new involvement in wind power led by Stelson at the University of Minnesota. The U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) recently had a competition to choose industry-university collaborative research centers to focus on wind power research, and the Center was one of the three centers that were awarded.

Vanderbilt University has also received funding to investigate precision pneumatics and control used in surgery under MRI. MRI can be used for precise positioning during surgery but, because of its magnetic field, pneumatics provides a possible solution rather than motors for implementing precision pneumatics within the body. Vanderbilt's Dr. Eric Barth is heading up this research initiative.

The NSF funding renewal is welcome news to the more than 30 faculty, 300 undergraduate and graduate engineering students, and the 57 industry sponsors who have been involved in the CCEFP since its founding in 2006 through an initial NSF grant. Their work on four test beds and 25-plus research projects focuses primarily on increasing the efficiency of existing fluid power applications, expanding use in transportation, creating portable, untethered human-scale fluid power applications and assuring that fluid power is clean, quiet, safe and easy to use.

The Center's education and outreach program is equally ambitious with more than 20 projects designed to attract pre-college students to science, engineering and to hydraulics and pneumatics in particular. The goal is to educate all mechanical engineering undergraduate students about fluid power, raise public awareness of fluid power, and establish forums where industry and academia can exchange ideas.

The CCEFP is headquartered at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Other universities in its network include the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Georgia Institute of Technology, Purdue University and Vanderbilt University. Outreach universities include the Milwaukee School of Engineering and North Carolina A&T State University. Outreach institutions include the National Fluid Power Assn., Project Lead the Way and the Science Museum of Minnesota.

"Our future as an NSF Center is assured, but not our future after that," says Stelson. "What we are thinking about now is how to use the Center's funding to advance the research efforts and find other sources of private and government funding to keep the efforts going."

Click here for additional information about the Engineering Research Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power.

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