Fluid power, research, and manufacturing


R&D is essential for advancing fluid-power technology, and for hydraulics and pneumatics manufacturers to grow and prosper. The Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power is a major proponent of academic research and government support for fluid power in the U.S., and among its goals is attracting government funding for research involving off-highway vehicles, human-scale applications (like orthotic devices and exoskeletons) and manufacturing.

The ARM Institute has received $250 million for advanced robotics research. Photo courtesy Carnegie Mellon University.

The objective of manufacturing-focused R&D fundamentally includes coming up with ways to produce components and systems more efficiently and economically, as well as helping the resulting products perform better. Officials at the CCEFP recognize that the federal government funds a significant amount of supporting R&D on a wide range of manufacturing initiatives. And, they concede, spending on fluid power research in the manufacturing arena has historically been a bit lacking. They’re working to change that by raising the profile of fluid power among government entities, educating members on funding opportunities, and encouraging participation in various programs.

Take, for instance, involvement with the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute, a Pittsburgh-based, public-private partnership founded by Carnegie Mellon University. ARM actively develops, demonstrates and facilitates early adoption of robotic solutions in an effort to expand manufacturing nationally. ARM focuses on critical growth sectors that are ripe for rapid adoption of robotics in manufacturing, and its mission is to:

• Empower American workers to compete with low-wage workers abroad.
• Lower the technical, operational and economic barriers for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as well as large companies to adopt robotics technology.
• Assert U.S. leadership in advanced manufacturing.

This industry-led, Department of Defense supported center boasts over $250 million in funding, which includes a significant industry match. ARM has identified seven topic areas where robotics can aid factory automation. These include: identifying, handling and packing objects, inspecting non-standard materials, tracking and traceability, surface treatments, and manipulating compliant materials. Thus, the aim of ARM is mainly on the end application. Fluid power companies that make products might consider joining ARM to improve their processes and work flow, or host a demonstration site for new activities.

More than 120 industrial partners have joined this relatively new consortium, including CCEFP companies Bimba, Eaton, Enfield, Innotronics and Parker Hannifin, and the National Fluid Power Association. Four CCEFP universities are also participating: Marquette, Duke, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Vanderbilt.

Thus, the CCEFP has a presence in ARM and the available dollars are eye opening. However, there is much competition to land funding for a major research undertaking, and it requires a herculean investment of time and resources to get it. The Center’s officials and partners actively are pursuing this. ARM announces a call for proposals every six months, so new opportunities come up regularly.

In a more general sense, advances in manufacturing technology would directly benefit the makers of fluid power products that go into everything from tiny soft grippers to massive mobile heavy equipment. The CCEFP had previously developed a manufacturing research strategy or “road map” that identified 10 key manufacturing technologies of great interest and potential to industry. These include coatings, micromachining, composites, sintered metals, additive manufacturing, batch-free heat treating, robotics, hybrid manufacturing, metrology, and in-process sensing, feedback and control.

One of the Center’s ongoing objectives is to use that road map to explore federal funding opportunities at entities like the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, NIST, and National Science Foundation. In addition, each branch of the military has its own research organization: the Army Research Office at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, and the Office of Naval Research in Washington, D.C.

Moving forward, this year CCEFP officials are planning to meet various experts at the different service branches and the DoD. According to Center Director Kim Stelson, “One of the purposes is to have discussions that will raise our awareness of what the mission-oriented research needs are in the Department of Defense, and to establish some key contacts with people inside of those very large organizations who would be interested in what we have to offer.”

In addition, the DoD funds a lot of fundamental research. One of the ways they do this is through what’s called the Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative, or MURI. The MURI program is a tri-service Department of Defense program that supports teams whose research efforts intersect more than one traditional science and engineering discipline. According to the Department, a multidisciplinary team effort can accelerate research progress in areas particularly suited to this approach by cross-fertilization of ideas, can enable more rapid R&D breakthroughs, hasten the transition of basic research findings to practical applications, and can help to train students in science and engineering in areas of importance to DoD. MURI support for a project typically amounts to $1.25 million dollars per year for five years. About two dozen awards were made last year. New technical areas worthy of funding are defined each year.

While fluid power has not been high on the list for MURI and DoD projects, the Center’s team looks to engage officials at these organizations about the CCEFP network of research connections in academia and industry, and explore opportunities of mutual benefit. To read more about research activities at CCEFP, see “Upbeat future for fluid power research” and “Government funding for fluid-power advancements.”


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