Lab Manager at the Maha
Anthony Franklin can think of no job more enjoyable than his role completing a plethora of hands-on tasks at the Maha Fluid Power Research Center.
Franklin is the research center's lab manager. He keeps more than a dozen research-related test beds running smoothly, and he ensures the safety of the more than 40 Purdue faculty, staff and graduate students who use the lab. His job requirements are vast, but Franklin loves every minute.
What is the Maha Fluid Power Research Center?
The research center is located just off McCarty Lane in Lafayette, and it houses and tests research out of Mechanical Engineering and Agricultural and Biological Engineering. The lab particularly focuses on creating test beds and prototype machines that are used to test new hydraulic drive and actuation systems as well as new concepts for hydraulic pumps and motors.
Overall, the goal of the research conducted in the lab is to increase the performance and efficiency of hydraulic components and systems, leading to major fuel savings in various machines and vehicles. The lab's research applies to construction equipment such as excavators, bulldozers, and wheel loaders, and to on- and off-road vehicles that utilize new transmission concepts such as hydraulic hybrids, new steering systems and combinations. My job is to make sure the test beds are running smoothly, to fabricate any needed parts — including safety shields and devices — and enforce safety standards for everyone working in the lab.
How many test beds are in the lab?
There are about 15 high-power test beds in our lab, which is probably one of the largest at Purdue. Some of the test beds allow the researchers to work specifically with certain hydraulics subsystems. In other cases, test beds are connected to actual pieces of equipment.
For example, we have created the world's first pump-controlled hydraulic hybrid excavator. Essentially, by eliminating the power loss caused in throttling valves, which are used in all excavators today, Maha researchers have demonstrated 40 percent fuel savings and 70 percent productivity improvement with their new pump-controlled actuation technology. That's an incredible accomplishment that no doubt will be incorporated into the next generation of excavators that hit the market.
What sort of parts do you fabricate for the test beds?
There isn't really a limit to what I make for the test beds. I've fabricated everything from steel-beam bases to tiny parts that fit into the test beds themselves. For example, most recently I created a piece the researchers needed to couple an electric motor to a pump.
My fabrication work in the lab makes it easy for our researchers, who might otherwise have to buy expensive custom parts, and it saves time because the work is done in-house.
How do you ensure the safety of everyone in the lab?
In addition to adding safety equipment to all our test beds, I ensure everyone is wearing the proper safety equipment when they enter the lab. That includes safety glasses, closed-toe shoes and earplugs. I also conduct safety talks for all of our researchers once a week, meet with other lab managers on campus to share safety practices and make sure to train all our new researchers in proper safety techniques.
What is your favorite part about your job?
There are so many neat things about my job, and that's why I love it — because it changes every day. A smart person once said if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life, and that adage truly applies to me. I love coming into work and tackling new challenges every day.
One of my favorite things is watching our student researchers succeed, graduate and go on to great careers. The work done in our lab opens a lot of doors for our students. I always tell them that if what we did at the lab was easy, anyone could do it — but our work is a challenge, and the experience students get here often leads them to great things. For example, one alumnus who worked in the lab is now living in Switzerland and working on suspension systems in Formula One cars.
I've been in this job for five years, and I have to say that it's been the best experience of my career. The people I work with are wonderful, and the work we're doing is important. When you work at a university like Purdue, you can't help but feel like you're making a difference. To me, that's just icing on the cake.