As MSOE transitioned to a hybrid learning format, faculty and staff were challenged to find creative solutions to continue to provide students with the hands-on learning experiences MSOE is known for. The Mechanical Engineering Department decided to bring labs to students with motor control kits to ensure students have the same opportunity to engage with lab experiments while learning at a distance.

At the start of the fall quarter, mechanical engineering seniors in the Automatic Control Systems course received a Hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) motor control kit to study feedback control systems at home.

Dr. Michael Cook, adjunct assistant professor, is the mastermind behind the kits. He explained the kits allow students to study velocity and position control via manual, open loop and closed loop controls. The students can design a controller for their motor and then put their designs to the test by connecting their controllers to the actual hardware.

The HIL motor control kits are fully funded by the Mechanical Engineering Department and are designed to keep students focused on the objective of the project without losing sight of theory.

“By utilizing HIL with the MATLAB/Simulink environment, students can focus on control theory because Simulink generates the actual code to program the microcontroller,” said Cook. “Otherwise, it is common for students to lose sight of the control theory learning objectives as they try to write their own code for the microcontroller.”

Cook originally developed a prototype of the kit in 2017 when the Mechanical Engineering Department was low on lab space due to lab renovations. The kits were a success and adapted for use in two control labs, as well as adjusted for the Electrical Engineering Department for their controls course.

Junior Peter Schwichtenberg assembles HIL motor control kit.This year the kits were revised so students could take them home and work on their own. Mechanical Engineering laboratory engineer Justin Sommer, lab technicians Rich Phillips and Roger Hajny, sophomore Matt Mickelson, senior Peter Schwichtenberg and other students worked together over the summer to assemble 130 professional kits to ensure learning isn’t hindered during the pandemic. They even fabricated many parts for the kits in-house, including the base, motor mount and wheel position indicator.

“The work that Justin, Rich, Roger, Peter and other student workers did to make 130 kits come together is truly amazing,” said Cook. “In my opinion, these kits look and function like something many universities would purchase.”  

In addition to designing the take home kits for the fall quarter, Cook—along with professors Jennifer Bonniwell, Luis A. Rodriguez, Daniel Williams and student Jacob Pribbernow—authored a paper around the system that was presented and accepted as a novel teaching device at the American Controls Conference in July 2020.

Additional efforts were implemented in courses across the Mechanical Engineering Department to continue to provide students with hands-on learning experiences as students, faculty and staff adapt to the new hybrid learning format. These efforts support MSOE’s mission to being extraordinary by developing a community of diverse professionals, educators and lifelong learners committed to continuous improvement and driven to excel.