But over the past 40 years, Purdue's Ray W. Herrick Laboratories has developed a formula for satisfying the practical needs of industry without compromising on the professional or academic needs of Purdue's engineering faculty and students.
"Other institutions tend to focus on one or two of these needs," says Herrick Labs director Robert Bernhard, professor of mechanical engineering. "At the Herrick Laboratories we've learned to successfully combine all three so that everyone involved benefits."
The research facility is affiliated with the School of Mechanical Engineering, with 18 faculty members involved with research and teaching. About six undergraduate and 50 to 60 graduate students work directly with faculty members and company representatives each year at the Herrick Labs on a variety of real-world engineering problems brought to them by various industrial sponsors.
"We have developed this into a win-win-win situation, something other schools are interested in emulating," Bernhard says. "Our students receive a solid academic background and real-world experience, interacting with engineers just as they would in an industrial setting. Our faculty work on fundamental engineering problems, leading to publications that help them advance professionally. And our industrial and government sponsors get solutions to specific, practical problems."
How has Herrick Labs achieved such a successful balance?
"We have faculty and students who know how to interact with industry," Bernhard explains. "Also, we have developed relationships with funding sources such as the National Science Foundation and other government agencies, so that we have consistent sources of seed money for new projects. With such funding, we are able to develop new technologies to the point where industry takes notice and gradually takes over funding the research."
Research at the labs ranges from heating, ventilation, refrigeration and air conditioning to noise control, automotive industry concerns and new materials. A new initiative focuses on developing "smart" machines, which would automatically adapt to changes in their operating environment or in performance requirements.
"Another key factor in our success is our state-of-the-art research facilities and instrumentation," Bernhard says. "Industry is attracted because our facilities are comparable to theirs.
"In addition, students gain valuable experience, and companies get highly skilled graduates. Many of our alumni go on to become key contacts between the Herrick Labs and their company."
Equipment in the Herrick Laboratories includes:
Another key to balancing academic and industrial needs, Bernhard says, is that Purdue's faculty know how to do contract work for various companies, while at other institutions faculty often do not understand industry's need for a researcher to follow through with a project and produce specific solutions to problems.
Herrick Labs is nationally and internationally recognized. Among the more than 120 past and present sponsors are companies in Canada, Japan, West Germany, Brazil, Korea and Denmark.
"I think we are an important unrealized asset in the state," Bernhard says. "For the most part, Indiana industries and the state government don't know what we do, but they could certainly take advantage of the labs. Certainly companies can benefit by working with us, and the government could promote our capabilities as a way to help attract new industry to the state."
One Indiana company that has taken advantage of all Herrick Labs has to offer is Cummins Engine Co. Inc. in Columbus, one of the world's leading manufacturers of diesel engines and employer of nearly 600 Purdue graduates in Indiana. Recently the company was testing experimental ceramic coatings on some of its engine parts to protect them from extreme heat. Working with Purdue researchers and students at Herrick Labs, the company funded a research project to better understand how and why the coatings cracked under extreme heat.
"The relationship with Cummins has been beneficial to the students, the company and myself," says Klod Kokini, professor of mechanical engineering and principal researcher on the project. From the tests and models developed, Cummins developed new, longer-lasting coatings.
"Also, the basic knowledge obtained resulted in key publications that helped identify Purdue and the Herrick Laboratories as one of the cutting-edge research institutions in the world," Kokini says. "And the interaction between industry and the graduate students has been extremely important in relating real-life applications and needs to basic research problems, which has resulted in the students being more in demand by many industries."
Writer: Amanda Siegfried, (765) 494-4709; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
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