Pro Deo et Patria

Small in Size, Big in Promise

A soon-to-be-patented postage-stamp-sized ceramic module developed in part by a pair of University of Dayton electrical engineering researchers is the catalyst for a startup company and high-tech manufacturing jobs in the region.

Working with Spectral Energies LLC on a $150,000 U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase-1 grant, the duo — Guru Subramanyam, professor and chair of the electrical and computer engineering department, and Vamsy Chodavarapu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering — established Prixarc LLC to market the more affordable and reliable system for aerospace engine control and diagnostics. The new system will operate at higher temperatures, in harsher conditions and for longer durations than current systems. 

Subramanyam and Chodavarapu said there are no aerospace engine control systems that can run for extended periods of time at temperatures up to 437 degrees Fahrenheit (a little more than twice the boiling point of water). Because the new system can withstand higher temperatures, it can be placed closer to the engine. That will reduce wiring in planes, thus decreasing aircraft weight, the communication time between engine and the computer, and reduce maintenance costs because of a simplified aircraft design.

Spectral Energies is in the process of creating one job to support work on the technology with another two jobs in the future. Prixarc hopes to create another position, according to Subramanyam and Chodavarapu. Both companies will provide internship opportunities for students that could lead to full-time positions.

"We're happy to generate high-tech, advanced manufacturing jobs for Ohio and provide internship opportunities for students close to campus," Chodavarapu said. "Startup companies enabled by technologies created at universities are relevant to students because they can see the work they do in labs getting into the marketplace."

To further develop this technology and fund job creation, the project received a $750,000 SBIR Phase-2 grant. In phase two, the group will test new systems for more than 10,000 hours at temperatures exceeding 450 degrees Fahrenheit. This technology could be applied to the automotive industry and oil and gas exploration that takes place in harsh, high-temperature environments.

The Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program is designed to stimulate technology research by small businesses while providing the government with cost-effective technical and scientific solutions to problems. The program also encourages the small businesses to market the technology in the private sector. 

The duo is also developing wireless, battery-less systems for smart infrastructure such as electric grids, smart homes and smart cities by scavenging power from available cellular networks.

Patent Pending

At the turn of the decade, they were preparing to head to college. Today, they're on the verge of being named on a patent with international food services company Hobart, a subsidiary of ITW Food Equipment Group LLC.

"No," said Prasanna Murlidharan, a current University of Dayton renewable and clean energy graduate student, when asked if he thought something like this was possible when he came to the University as an undergrad. "This is pretty exciting and interesting." 

Seven University of Dayton students from the School of Engineering's Innovation Center, including Murlidharan, will be listed on a Hobart nonprovisional patent filing for an innovation that assists in trapping heat in industrial dishwashers often found in cafeterias and restaurants.

The non-provisional patent filing will be published on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's website in early 2018. Then the innovation will undergo a two- to three-year process to determine whether it "meets certain standards of inventiveness" for a patent, according to the group's mentor and Hobart engineering manager Alexander Anim-Mensah.

When the dishwasher hood opens, a plume of hot, moist air escapes and creates an uncomfortable user experience plus heat loss from the machine. The dishwasher must do more work to re-heat the machine for the next cycle. This invention will protect the operator from the blast of heat, improve drying and reduce energy costs needed to continually re-heat the dishwasher.

The team estimates the invention will improve the energy efficiency of an Energy Star machine by at least 5 percent and the drying efficiency by at least 25 percent.

"That is huge for an already energy-efficient machine. In an age where energy is getting expensive and standards keep rising, every bit counts," Anim-Mensah said. "Given the average life of these machines is more than seven years, operators will enjoy the cost-saving benefits from the invention."

Anim-Mensah said work on this project started with four University of Dayton students in 2015, who created a solid barrier to block the dishwasher's opening. Another trio, which includes Murlidharan, picked up the project a year later and made modifications that provided easier access to the dishwasher.

"This project has helped me apply concepts learned in class," said Murlidharan, who hails from India. "I would tell anyone looking to do something like this to be open to exploring new ideas and concepts. That's how we've been successful."

University of Dayton students in the School of Engineering's Innovation Center have a proven track record of success: In the center's two decades, students have worked on more than 1,000 projects with more than 200 industry partners, meeting or exceeding client expectations more than 85 percent of the time.

"Hobart has been a strong supporter of our Innovation Center and assisting our students with experiential learning opportunities for more than 15 years," said Becky Blust, Innovation Center director. "The opportunity Hobart has given our students to be part of this patent process is one not many get as an undergraduate."

GE Aviation

It's rare for a global company to build a research center on a college campus, but GE Aviation doesn't think inside the box. Neither does the University of Dayton.

In 2013, GE Aviation opened the $51 million GE Aviation Electrical Power Integrated Systems Center on campus. In the lab, University of Dayton researchers and students work side by side with GE Aviation scientists and engineers to create new advanced electrical power technologies such as new power systems for aircraft, longer-range electric cars, and smarter utility power grids for more efficient delivery of electricity.

The center, believed to be the only one of its kind because of its capability to simulate and test complete electrical power systems in airplanes, is located on about eight acres on the University of Dayton's campus on River Park Drive along the Great Miami River. 

The center stands as a testament to what imagination — and collaboration — can accomplish. In the higher education landscape nationally, this innovative partnership is a model for the future.

Icy Hot Research

The collaboration between the University of Dayton and The Helix Innovation Center is already paying off, resulting in the first patent application by Emerson for research performed at The Helix.

Two University of Dayton researchers are part of a team that developed an ice machine simulator, which is designed to help achieve the U.S. Department of Energy's target of reducing energy in ice machines by 10-15 percent by 2018.

Dave Myszka, co-director of the University of Dayton Design of Innovative Machines Laboratory, and Haithem Murgham, a doctoral student in the lab, created and assembled physics-based models of components within the ice machine.

The team tested its ice machine computer simulator within 5 percent accuracy of actual machines. Simulation results were compared with the experimental data of a fully instrumented, standard 500-pound capacity ice machine, operating under various room air and water inlet temperatures.

"Within the simulation, we can quickly change components and evaluate the resulting performance," Myszka said. 

Emerson engineers said this was challenging considering the way ice machines work, continually cycling between ice formation and ice harvest modes. The model simulates this cycle plus calculates changes in the system because of machine capacity and environmental conditions.

According to Emerson, "cubers," as they are known in the industry, produce anywhere between 50 pounds to two tons of ice per day for restaurants, hotels, convenience stores and hospitals.

"This project was a great example of our ideation model at work. At The Helix, we explore new approaches to industry challenges, test concepts and then create new models to solve them. In this case, our process helped us create a system model that will support future innovations in ice machine efficiency," said Rajan Rajendran vice president, system innovation center and sustainability for Emerson’s commercial & residential solutions business. "The collaboration with the University of Dayton was important to our success and we are pleased to have filed our first patent from our work at The Helix." 

The University of Dayton performed $117.6 million of sponsored research in fiscal year 2016, which ranks ninth nationally among private comprehensive research universities without medical schools.

Emerson opened The Helix Innovation Center on the University of Dayton campus in late 2015. At The Helix, University of Dayton students and faculty work with Emerson engineers and industry leaders to develop innovations in the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration industry. The 40,000 square-foot center contains six simulated environments that provide University of Dayton students a real-world research playground they can't find anywhere else — a fully-functioning and furnished home, a model supermarket, a light commercial environment, a commercial kitchen, a data center and an industrial refrigeration system. 

"The innovative culture at The Helix is apparent, and has motivated us with the understanding our work will ultimately lead to ice machines that use less energy," Myszka said.

Solving real-world problems every day

Collaborating with Emerson on an ice machine simulator that satisfies U.S. Department of Energy specifications. Working side-by-side with GE Aviation engineers. Filing a patent with Hobart. Creating new technology that launched startup Prixarc. University of Dayton researchers, faculty and students partner with industry to solve real-world problems every day.

 “We’re focused on research for the common good,” said John Leland, vice president for research and executive director of the University of Dayton Research Institute. “We are solving real problems, and companies are benefitting from those solutions. We have developed a holistic industry relationship that benefits the companies, the community, the University and our students.”

To learn more, read about our partnership  – and successful collaboration with each industry – with Emerson, GE Aviation, Hobart and Prixarc.

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