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Transport vehicle research – full speed ahead.

August 9, 2012 — 

After receiving a tenure position with the Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering Department at the University of Manitoba, Dr. Christine Wu was determined to find industry partners to do research collaborations with. When she received an email from MITACS, a national, not-for-profit research organization, she followed up to see if there were internship opportunities for her Ph.D. student, May Yang.

Dr. Wu and Yang were matched with Motor Coach Industries Ltd. (MCI), a manufacturer of intercity coaches serving charter and tour operations. MCI was interested in developing an automated system that would test the durability performance of their coaches. MCI’s current system for vibration testing involved a large time commitment and produced results that had a considerable degree of uncertainties. Being able to develop an automated testing system would result in significant time and cost savings as well as more reliable conclusions.

During a four-month internship, Yang was tasked with mathematically analyzing a vibration data set obtained from the heating and ventilation units of MCI’s motor coaches. The goal was to identify the key components of the data which can be used to develop a lab-based automated testing system. Interestingly, the results indicated that MCI’s manual testing methods had room for modifications which would result in improvements in durability testing.

ChristineWuSeeing the potential for further research collaborations, MCI and Dr. Wu embarked on a much larger research project based on the findings of Yang’s internship. After some discussions, a cluster of 14 internships began to work on the development of a mathematical tool for accelerated durability tests of ground vehicles. The outcome of these internships will empower MCI to bring their products to market more quickly and economically than would be possible using standard life testing methods.

“When we started this collaboration, we learned about problems and now we’re really helping MCI solve them,” said Dr. Wu. “I’m really thrilled to see how my research has been able to bridge the gap between academic theory and industry applications. That’s what engineering is all about.”

The continued collaboration between MCI, Dr. Wu and the University of Manitoba has also resulted in developments in Dr. Wu’s research. She is now co-supervising students with professors from other departments that otherwise wouldn’t have seemed possible before. Her student group has grown from four students in 2007 to 12 in 2012, with more requesting her supervision than ever before.

“This collaboration has helped me create a really good environment to train HQPs,” said Dr. Wu. “Now, industry can come and do presentations and students are able to visit their manufacturing line.”

Realizing the benefit of the collaborative research, MCI has further expanded the collaboration. Recently, Dr. Wu’s application for an NSERC Senior Industrial Research Chair has been approved. Dr. Wu is hoping to create a research hub for commercial ground vehicles and transportation equipment in Winnipeg.

The need for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving fuel efficiency is driving the automobile industry into a hunt for lighter materials. But these materials must excel in maintaining structural integrity. Another pressing need is improving the ride safety. Automotive industries have long strived to enhance vehicle structural reliability and passenger safety by developing new technologies, such as intelligent structures and active safety systems. Development and applications of these technologies have led to an increased demand for developing tools for understanding the effectiveness of these technologies and the fundamental issues associated with structural integrity and ride safety.

Dr. Christine Wu plans to collaborate with the engineers from Motor Coach Industries (MCI) to develop such tools to facilitate their design and analysis with the focus on vehicle roll-safety evaluation, development of accelerated durability testing and analysis of structural dynamics and integrity. The computer-aided design tools will be developed to identify key factors affecting the structural integrity and vehicle roll safety, which result in fewer expensive tests and better designs.

The research outcomes will be of great value to Motor Coach Industries Inc. It will strengthen MCI’s productivity by achieving improved deigns while reducing the testing costs and shortening the design cycles. The outcome of the research is not restricted to motor coaches but can be applied to other ground vehicles. Thus, vehicle and transportation equipment manufacturers can also benefit from this research.

It is safe to say Dr. Wu’s research collaboration with MCI is travelling in the right direction, full speed ahead!

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