Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Save on Building, Running and Maintaining a Control Lab

Quanser Academic Consultants visit a large number of control labs every year. Sunny Ray shared his experience at this year's ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition. His presentation titled How to Reduce Overhead of Building, Running and Maintaining a Lab attracted many educators striving to grow America's innovation capabilities despite dwindling funds for control laboratory equipment.

The solution Sunny discussed includes pooling sev
eral engineering departments’ resources to create fewer but far better, more adaptable laboratories that teach students broader skills.
Systems have simply become too complex for engineers to work alone, or for students to study a single subject without wider context. Cross-disciplinary problem solving dependencies mandate collaboration by sharing space and resources. This shift is also obvious in industry - with the emergance of mechatronics, there is a huge demand for cross-disciplinary skills.

Multi-disciplinary controls labs - sometimes called Integrated Learning Centres (ILC), such as the one at Queen's University, also extend the value of the investment, allowing to reuse or repurpose the equipment for teaching and/or research. The same equipment can be used for measurement and instrumentation courses, introduction to engineering, mechatronics, senior design projects...

Quanser's experiments have expanded into many areas of controls systems, with over 80 experiments from basic motor control, to active mass damping, robotics and haptics. All these systems share common software and hardware components, therefore part of a multidisciplinary lab can remain stationary. So instead of setting up five different labs in five different departments, universities can save up to 60% of their costs by setting up a lab with common hardware-in-the-loop components and rapid control prototyping software in one central location the whole experiment, the set up is reduced to bringing only part of the hardware. The modularity of the systems allows also to expand the lab over the time and keep it up-to-date.

To learn more about the benefits of Integrated Learning Centers, read an article from Dr. Jacob Apkarian.

Integrated Learning Center, Queen's University, Canada

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