University News

WIU Partners with Area Business to Build Better Engines

November 28, 2011

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MACOMB, IL -- For more than two years, Engineering Technology Professor Rafael Obregon has been working with WIU alumnus Dan Meyer Innovative Design and Research Corporation (IDRC) of Rushville (IL) on a sophisticated Department of Defense (DoD) grant focused on engine design.

"Dan received information about this grant opportunity in 2009, and invited me to work on it with him. We had worked together many times in the past, so it seemed like a good fit," Obregon said.

Meyer is no stranger to the process involved in government grants. He formed IDRC in 1989 to conceive and produce advanced thermal engines as alternatives to existing conventional engines. From its earliest beginnings, IDRC sought grant funding to develop and implement the new engine concepts. The company's first DoD grant was awarded in 1996. On their current project, Meyer and Obregon are collaborating under the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, sponsored by the DoD. It is a cooperative project that is intended to join a local business with the University through a two-phase project.

"STTR programs require cooperative research and development (R&D) projects involving a small business and a research institution like a university, a federally-funded R&D center or a nonprofit research institution," Meyer said. "The purpose of an STTR is to create, for the first time, an effective method for transferring ideas from the nation's research institutions to the market, where they can benefit both private sector and military customers."

A written agreement between the small business and the research institution, allocating "Intellectual Property" rights is required for participating in this kind of program.

Meyer and Obregon developed the Phase I proposal and were approved for $21,000 in funding. This phase consisted of the development and analysis of three-dimensional computer models of IDRC's new engine designs for military Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Meyer and Obregon worked during Fall 2010 on modeling, validation and documentation of the conceptual UAV engine design, and the results were used to determine unrivaled power-to-weight ratios and to produce interactive virtual prototypes for the final engine configuration. By incorporating lightweight, efficient and durable materials into the engine designs, the UAVs are better equipped for success.

"Traditionally, these engines and components have been constructed of conventional materials like cast iron and aluminum," Obregon explained. "These limit the power-to-weight ratio and/or durability of the product. Through this grant, we're successfully finding more innovative approaches to engine materials and design."

During Phase I, Meyer and Obregon were notified that nearly 40 proposals were submitted for the project. In addition to the IDRC-WIU proposal, three other company-research institution teams in Indiana, Arizona and Oregon were working on prototypes. They later found out that only one team would be chosen to continue to Phase II. After eight months of hard work and planning, the WIU Phase I effort was selected as a finalist. Meyer and Obregon were invited to submit a Phase II proposal. As a result, $9,000 of additional STTR funds were allocated to the project.

In March, IDRC began development of the Phase II proposal for $500,000 to create a working prototype of the Phase I designs. Several drafts of the Phase II proposal were submitted, and since then, Meyer and Obregon have continued working to refine engine components, design a test-cell for the prototype, locate and evaluate contractors and suppliers and adjust the proposal according to the revisions and specifications in the grant.

"As we begin the full scale Phase II research, we've started working with another WIU entity, the Quad Cities Manufacturing Lab (QCML), to manufacture key engine components for advanced materials," Obregon said.

The QCML is a DoD-funded research center in Moline (IL), which specializes in the use of titanium and other lightweight metals.

According to Meyer, the final designs, engineering analysis and refinement related tasks will occur during Spring 2012.

"We'll continue with manufacturing of essential components through Summer 2012, and by Fall 2012, we will have the prototype engine assembled and mounted on the test-cell to initiate 1,000 hours of tests at the testing facility in Rushville," Meyer said.

Obregon said that the successful development of this technology could create the standard engine of the future and show up in homes and businesses as lightweight power generators, fire pumps, outboard motors and portable air conditioning units. Pending the test results, it is expected that by early 2013, a "platform" engine will be readied and delivered for government field tests with the Department of Defense.

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