Positive Impact - The Grainger Foundation - boldly pushing the envelope

Seng-Liang Wang Hall
What do you do when your capabilities exceed your facilities? This was the dilemma facing students and faculty in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Over the past several years, Purdue’s Power and Energy Devices and Systems (PEDS) faculty and graduate students have developed relatively sophisticated software tools to enable the design of electric machinery. These tools have been successfully applied to design man-portable generators; a propulsion drive for NASA’s lunar module, Chariot; and the elbow joint actuator for NASA’s humanoid robot, “Robonaut.”  

However, while the expertise is in place, Purdue’s facilities were not equipped with the ability to fabricate the electric machines being designed.

“The construction of these types of machine designs is unheard of in the United States, so we were having an outside contractor fabricate the laminations and housings,” said Steve Pekarek, professor of electrical and computer engineering. “Unfortunately, this is an expensive endeavor — typically costing anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 per machine — and it requires lead times (approximately four months) that are prohibitive.

“Contracting this work out also eliminates the opportunity for students to construct and test their designs during a traditional 15-week course and makes it impossible for us to educate them on the complexities of the machine-construction process.” 

To solve the problem, Purdue approached The Grainger Foundation about its equipment needs and was recently awarded $1 million to purchase new equipment in order to expand its undergraduate and graduate curriculum in electric machinery design. The new equipment will be installed within The Grainger Machine Design Laboratory and The Grainger Energy Conversion Laboratory. These laboratories will be housed within a new electrical and computer engineering building (Seng-Liang Wang Hall; artist’s rendering shown).

“Because of The Grainger Foundation’s generosity, our undergraduate and graduate students will soon be able to experience the multiple stages of the machine-design process (computer-aided design, fabrication and testing),” Pekarek said. “This gift will also enable research into new designs that push the boundaries of efficiency, torque density, and power density.

“This is sure to positively impact the performance of our students.”