The 20th Annual Engineering Design EXPO will be held Friday, April 26, 2013. All EXPO events are free and open to the public and take place at the Student Union Building on the Moscow campus.
Please continue to visit the EXPO site for more information on this year's projects.
The Power of Experience
Students work with local engineering company to build test generator
By Tara Roberts
With wind energy increasing in popularity, power companies must examine how best to keep wind turbines and the power grid running efficiently and reliably.
An interdisciplinary team of seniors in the College of Engineering's capstone design program is helping Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) explore methods for protecting wind-power systems from instability.
The capstone program – recently recognized as among the best in the nation by the National Academy of Engineering – culminates in the Engineering Design EXPO. This year's 20th annual event is April 26 in the Student Union Building.
Students Wes Matej, electrical engineering, John Feusi, mechanical engineering, and Carlos Solis, computer engineering, make up Team DFIG.
A Doubly-Fed Induction Generator (DFIG) is a machine commonly used to connect wind turbines to the power grid. DFIGs are useful because they allow turbines to respond to the wind and spin at varying speeds, but are able to convert the energy into a steady stream as it feeds into the grid.
SEL– an international leader in providing products and services for electrical power systems – commissioned the team to build a system to test how a DFIG behaves in different circumstances, such as power faults.
"If the grid has a problem, they want to know how these wind farms will react to that problem," Feusi says.
In the Junior Power Lab in Gauss Johnson Engineering Lab, the team's generator sits among rows of other test motors, ready for the final phases of the project before Matej, Feusi and Solis present their work at EXPO.
A particular strength of Team DFIG's experience is the connection its members have made with their sponsor. Normann Fischer, principle power engineer at SEL, works directly with the team. He is currently earning his doctoral degree at U-Idaho and has been sponsoring projects through SEL for six years.
"I've really enjoyed working with him," Feusi says. "He's a role model of how I want to be in the workplace."
Feusi says working with a customer requires more flexibility than practicing problem solving in the classroom – and involves bigger consequences.
"There's a lot more pressure to get your engineering right," Matej says.
The rapport between sponsors and students flows both ways. Fischer says teaching students what power engineering is all about is positive for his company.
"I think it really gives students good hands-on experience, and it gives students a good idea of what industry wants," Fischer says. "It shows them the type of projects that we need, what we find to be useful."
The students agreed their senior design experience has prepared them for future education and careers. The team's faculty supervisors, Joe Law and Brian Johnson, associate professors in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, can answer questions and help as needed. But the team is expected to design, build and troubleshoot independently.
Feusi says he enjoys working in an interdisciplinary team. He was already interested in energy production and control systems, but the DFIG project has given him the opportunity to learn engineering theory beyond what he's encountered as a mechanical engineering student.
"It's not something you'd address in a typical undergrad class," he says.
As an electrical engineering student, Matej says he's learned most of the concepts in class, but the project took them a step further. "It's the hands-on aspect of applying what I've learned before."