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Shock and vibration testing innovation lands associate professor Pusey Award

Greg Engel and Erik Timpson stand by their shock and vibration testing device.

Associate Professor of electrical engineering Greg Engel, along with Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technology’s Erik Timpson (right), won the Henry Pusey Best Paper Award for “Reversible Electromagnetic Launchers for Mechanical Shock Testing” at this year’s Shock and Vibration Symposium. Photos courtesy of Honeywell FM&T.

Shock and vibration testing typically does not fall under the purview of electrical engineers. But a repurposing of his electromagnetic launcher technology earned Greg Engel, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, top honors at the 86th Annual Shock and Vibration Symposium in October.

Engel, along with Honeywell Federal Manufacturing and Technology’s Erik Timpson, won the Henry Pusey Best Paper Award for “Reversible Electromagnetic Launchers for Mechanical Shock Testing” at this year’s symposium, which was held in Orlando, Fla. The award is named for the late Henry Pusey, a leader in the shock and vibration community and a prolific author on the subject.

Engel's small scale prototype.

Honeywell believed the reversible HEML had potential applications in shock and vibration testing, and Engel produced a small-scale and a quarter-scale prototype. The small-scale prototype is seen here.

“The shock and vibration community, these guys are mostly mechanical engineers, so to be recognized in this collaborative effort from peers that aren’t even in my field of expertise, I’m very honored,” Engel said.

The use of Engel’s helical electromagnetic launcher (HEML) for shock and vibration testing is a breakthrough in the testing field. Typically, Engel said, these types of tests either involve a shaker table or a drop tower, the latter of which sees the object dropped from a certain height on to a padded platform. The performance of the device is determined by how it holds up after impact, an imperfect testing solution as the possibility exists that the device being tested is one of a kind, and dropping it may break it.

“If you drop something that costs $10 million and the cushion doesn’t work well, guess what? You might destroy something that costs $10 million, and usually the customer’s not happy with that,” Engel remarked.

Engel initially developed a reversible HEML for the Department of Defense, with the design allowing him to launch a projectile in a catapult fashion, which is a unique capability of his launcher design.

Honeywell believed the reversible HEML had potential applications in shock and vibration testing, and Engel produced a small-scale and a quarter-scale prototype. Using the reversible HEML technology allows for testing of the device’s ability to handle shock and vibration using an arbitrary shock pulse that is electrically controlled instead of a mechanically programmed and potentially risky drop onto a platform. It also allows for greater repeatability and reliability, eliminating variations in the testing.

“What this allows one to do is electrically program the shock pulse — any pulse you can think of can be done with this,” Engel said. “So that’s why that community is very excited about this.”

The next step is to continue work on a full-scale testing device and further research its potential applications. Engel said several colleagues at the conference were interested to see what the future holds.

“Most of the people, they said ‘It’s going to change the way we’re doing testing, it has lots of potential, and we look forward to the next paper,’” he said.