Video: Connecticut Science Center Exhibit Gets Second Wind

An exhibition that simulates what it's like for people to use wind to steer sailboats at the Connecticut Science Center got some new wind in its sails, literally, courtesy of a technology facelift by ebm-papst.

Since 2009, the center in Hartford, Conn., has had an exhibition called "Sailboat Air Track" in its Forces and Motion Gallery that allows people to try out how a sailboat works by controlling boats that run on a track. The exhibit features fans that mimic wind, and people can steer the boats with different sail positions and shapes against others on parallel tracks.

On a visit last year to the center -- which also aims to encourage interest in science and engineering among children -- Bob Sobolewski, president and CEO of ebm-papst, thought the exhibit could use a refresh to provide a more exciting and compelling user experience. He offered his company's engineering team and donated ebm-papst's time, materials, and expertise for the project.

Starting in early 2013, engineers and designers from the company worked together with the center to come up with a retrofit not only to replace the fans that produce the exhibit's wind, but also enhance its overall design.

Engineers choose one of the company's small fans, the 115V AC ACi4410HH Electronically Commutated Axial Fan, which is 119 mm x 119 mm x 38 mm in size and runs at 3,350 revolutions per minute. The retrofitted exhibit uses a total of 140 of these fans, 35 on each of the exhibition's four sailboat tracks.

To simplify maintenance, which was a problem with the previous exhibition, the ebm-papst team built and installed each track in five-fan modules that are easy to remove, replacing a fan assembly that needed to be completely taken apart to replace one fan. Engineers lined the fans up side by side and tilted them at an angle to generate wind. There are also new bases on the fan that can be adjusted to various heights to change the wind's effect on the sails.

In addition to making the exhibit perform structurally better, engineers also made aesthetic improvements, said Hogan Eng, ebm-papst's electrical engineering manager, in a press release. "Our goal was to develop lighting for the exhibit that would be in harmony with its design," he said. "We programmed lighting on the LED strips so they would appear to be waves breaking on a beach, moving back and forth with whitecaps and slowly dimming as the water moves away from the shore."

Engineers also removed Masonite dividers that had previously separated each track and replaced them with a water-blue Plexiglas panel sandblasted with the Connecticut Science Center logo to make the exhibit more visually interesting, Eng added.

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