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Brad Petersen
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1066 ECE Building
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Phone: (217) 244-6376
bradp@illinois.edu

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megd@illinois.edu

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University of Illinois leading electric machine design effort

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By Bridget Maiellaro, ECE Illinois
June 26, 2008

  • Prof. Philip Krein and Prof. Patrick Chapman received funding from the Office of Naval Research to investigate improving electric machine design.
  • Current design methods were developed over one hundred years ago, and the researchers hope to update these methods for the modern age.
  • One such example are 4D design tools which incorporate time and operating dynamics into the design process.

ECE Professor Philip Krein and Associate Professor Patrick Lyle Chapman recently received funding from the Office of Naval Research to further investigations dedicated to improving electric machine design. As a result, the University of Illinois, in collaboration with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University, will become one of the few institutions in the nation preparing new electromechanics design applications for the next generation of engineers.

Patrick Lyle Chapman
Patrick Lyle Chapman
Philip Krein
Philip Krein

"The design methods that are used now were developed more than a hundred years ago, and that sounds great because there has been long experience. But on the other hand, they have never really been updated for modern methods and modern materials," Krein, director of the Grainger Center for Electric Machinery and Electromechanics Endowed Director’s Chair Professor, said. "[The design methods] are way out of date, and there is a lot to be gained, such as better energy efficiency, better performance, and alternative operating ideas."

In addition to developing mathematical models to facilitate machine design, Krein and Chapman have made efforts to assemble a national consortium dedicated to the modern design of electric machines for the past two years. After all, their objective to update machine design has been a key focus of the Grainger Center, which has focused on improving education, technology, and research activities for electric machinery, since it was formed in 1999.

Over the years, Krein and Chapman have sought ways to bring all of the new advances in technology into effect. As a result, they decided to focus their research on 4D design tools, in which time and operating dynamics become the fourth dimension.

"A lot of the design of machines really only takes place with respect to the geometry of the machine, or its 3D design," Chapman, associate director of the Grainger Center, said. "We really want to incorporate how a machine behaves and functions over time. That’s where a lot of the material properties and the use of electronics and machine control come into play."

Naval ships like the USS Tortuga will benefit from efforts to improve design of electric motors, now underway at Illinois. Applications of the research extend far beyond the military, with potential to impact virtually anything with a motor. Photo courtesy of the US Navy, by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Maurice Dayao.
Naval ships like the USS Tortuga will benefit from efforts to improve design of electric motors, now underway at Illinois. Applications of the research extend far beyond the military, with potential to impact virtually anything with a motor. Photo courtesy of the US Navy, by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Maurice Dayao.

With the help of the Office of Naval Research, whose interest in converting the Navy’s diesel engines into electric motors has substantially grown in the past decade, Krein and Chapman were able to begin their three-year project this summer. While the Office of Naval Research requires Navy oriented machines to be the forerunner of case studies and the project, Krein and Chapman said the research will be generally applicable.

"Navy ships are really just the tip of the iceberg," Krein said. "You can think of all kinds of transportation applications all the way down to hybrid electric cars and airplanes, even mundane things like home appliances and small motors. Thousands and thousands of applications have the opportunity to be improved."

Through their ongoing research, Krein and Chapman hope to eventually produce tools that will enable a competent engineer to design electric machines that are light and inexpensive, with improved performance.

"We really want to leverage the advances we have in control electronics," Chapman said. "We hope to take a machine that was designed with a very standard old standby method and compare it to our new design methods that show a very clear cut advantage."

Krein and Chapman invited Georgia Institute of Technology and Purdue University to participate in the research project for a variety of reasons. Georgia Tech is one of the few institutions that still teaches a course on motor design. It is home to Professor Ron Harley, one of the last remaining experts on the design of electric machines. Meanwhile, Purdue has worked with the Office of Naval Research and other organizations interested in updating machine design for many years. Chapman said that the three institutions will each look at different angles of electric machine design.

In addition to the research that will take place on each campus and in the Fourth Naval District in Philadelphia, Krein said the three institutions will search for ways for all students interested in the topic to learn together, using Georgia Tech as a starting point.

"We want to get all students involved with this consortium as a group rather than try to reinvent it at each individual school," Krein said. "We don’t want to reinvent everything. We want to build on and really categorize the past knowledge."

Chapman said the arrangement will allow students at each university to learn the same topics, while teaching one another new things along the way. In addition, he hopes there will be a growing interest in the topic.

"We need not only the research, but we need the students that come out of that research who go out there and establish the benefits," he said. "Industry right now can’t hire people with that knowledge because it hasn’t been taught for a long time. We need to reestablish that... We have the opportunity to be one of the only universities in America teaching the subject. It will give us very good positioning for the area of electric machine design."

In the future, Krein and Chapman hope to rebuild their courses to reflect their ongoing research and developments in the field. In fact, the pair is currently designing a textbook for undergraduate education that includes sections of electric machine design. The book, entitled Electromechanics: The Science and Engineering of Electrical Forces and Motion, is scheduled to be available in late 2009.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at bradp@illinois.edu or (217) 244-6376.

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