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Oregon State University is helping manufacturers develop innovative products, improve processes and reduce costs — increasing market share and profitability. Manufacturers can draw from faculty and student talent as well as use advanced facilities for cost-effective research and development.
Sharpening the metals industry
Truck bodies, baseball bats, knives, jet engine parts and bridges are all manufactured in Oregon and account for thousands of jobs. To keep the metals industry competitive, Oregon State University is working through the Oregon Metals Initiative to help manufacturers solve problems and improve their products and processes.
According to Oregon State mechanical engineer John Parmigiani, faculty and student researchers have conducted more than $2 million in metals-related research since 2007 for companies such as Precision Castparts, Daimler Trucks, Hewlett-Packard, Boeing and Benchmade.
Researchers have found answers to practical questions about production processes, such as optimizing job tracking systems or more efficient metal grinding operations. Other research has focused on product improvements like using high-strength composite materials to reduce vehicle weight or testing the cutting properties of different metal alloys. The results have included patents for companies, internships for students and full-time job offers for graduates.
Reducing production costs for microchannel arrays
Microchannel arrays have enormous potential for more efficient heat transfer and chemical reactions, but high production costs have so far held back the broad, mainstream use of the technology. Now, that’s changing.
Engineers at Oregon State University have invented a new way to use surface-mount adhesives in the production of low-temperature microchannel heat exchangers. According to Brian Paul, a professor in the School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, this approach has reduced material costs by 50 percent in certain applications and cut production-bonding costs by more than 90 percent compared to existing methods.
The diameter of a human hair, microchannels can be used to speed up the heat exchange between fluids or the mixing and separation of fluids during chemical reactions. Researchers say microchannels will be needed in next-generation computers, lasers, consumer electronics, automobile cooling systems, fuel processors, miniature heat pumps and other devices.
Research for the technology was conducted at the Microproducts Breakthrough Institute, a signature research facility of the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI). A patent has been applied for, and the university is seeking an industry partner to continue development and commercialization.
Making solar energy materials in a microwave
The same microwave technology people use to heat leftovers could offer a low-cost, high-volume method for manufacturing thin-film solar cells.
Engineers at Oregon State University have successfully used microwave heating to synthesize copper zinc tin sulfide into a nanoparticle ink that can be rolled or sprayed — by approaches such as inkjet printing — to create photovoltaic cells.
This approach should save money, work well and be easier to scale up at commercial levels compared to traditional synthetic methods, says Greg Herman, an associate professor in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. Microwave technology reduces reaction times to minutes or seconds and offers more precise control over heat and energy to achieve the desired reactions. In addition, the elements used to make the thin-film compound are benign, inexpensive and should have good solar cell performance, making it a commercially attractive solution.
Funding and support for the research was provided by Sharp Laboratories of America, ONAMI and the Oregon Process Innovation Center for Sustainable Solar Cell Manufacturing, an Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center (Oregon BEST) signature research facility.