Research Laboratories

Five additional laboratories, among many utilized by the Department faculty for research purposes, are mentioned below due to their anticipated usefulness in exposing undergraduate students to advanced topics. All laboratories were recently created and are expected to employ undergraduate students alongside graduate students in research activities moving forward. These laboratories were developed with input and guidance from faculty in the CIET/CM, ELET and MET programs.

Sustainable Material and Renewable Technology (SMART) Laboratory

The SMART lab consists of over 1500 ft2 lab space, which includes 800 ft2 of material development and processing facility and over 700 ft2 of material characterization and testing facility. Prototypes of a variety green composite material and structure members can be produced by extrusion, compression and lamination process. The material characterization and testing facility has the ability to conduct profound testing including material mechanical and thermal properties from the nano to macro scale. Technical capabilities include computer analysis, advanced visualization, and multi-scale microscopy. The major instruments include: one C.W. Brander Laboratory Extruder with two customized die offering a high degree of operating reliability for the compounding of various polymers; one Carver Hydraulic Laboratory Press with heating/Cooling feature, precisely temperature control up to 650F for green composite material molding, laminating, embossing and bonding; Resin Infusion Platform for laminating sandwich natural fiber reinforced polymer panels; two dimensional biaxial strain-rate tensile testing platform equipped with Olympus high speed camera with microscope lenses; INSTEC HCS620 Hot/Cold stage coupled with Carl Zeiss Axioskip optical microscope for identifying the thermal effects on physical and chemical changes in materials; Isotemp 3031P programmable heating/cooling circulator with temperature range -25°C to 250°C for material durability test subject to repeated freeze to thaw cycle; Denver Instrument IR 60 moisture analyzer with 0.001g resolution Multi-Scale Microscopy; one Fisher Scientific Micromaster II Phase Contrast microscope with Digital/Video imaging 10X/100X/1000X. These equipments can be used to analyze wood, fiber and wood polymer surface properties to examine the surface morphology of the natural fiber composites.

Thermal Analytical Research Laboratory

The Thermal Analytical Research Laboratory houses a suite of thermal analysis instruments that enable the development of advanced materials for energy conservation, production, conversion, storage, and distribution. This facility is equipped for work in energy, sustainable materials, fire safety and other related area. The major equipment includes: a dynamic mechanical analyzer (DMA) to determine the thermo-mechanical properties of task-specific sustainable materials for improving the energy efficiency of new constructions; a multi-purpose differential scanning calorimeter (DSC) to enable determination of heat capacity, transition temperature, enthalpies of transition for a wide range of materials include building materials, as well as task-specific materials and working fluids for energy storage, transport, and conversion; a rheometer to determine the viscosity of task-specific materials and working fluids for energy storage, transport, and conversion; a thermal conductivity analyzer capable to measure thermal conductivity of bulk materials within a second at temperature range from -50 to 200 °C. a thermogravimetric analyzer (TGA) to enable studies into the thermal degradation of materials in various environments, including the long-term stability of energy storage materials under cycling conditions.

Automated Manufacturing Lab

The automated manufacturing lab is a suite of both additive and subtractive manufacturing technologies that produce parts based on computer files. The Epilog Helix is a 75 W laser cutter and engraver capable of handling flat workpieces of plastic, wood, acrylic, and coated metal up 24″ x 18″. The Nomad Pro is a desktop CNC that is capable of 3 axis milling of aluminum, plastics, and wood. It is coupled with MeshCAM software, which generates Gcode (toolpaths instructions) from extracted CAD file geometry. For additive manufacturing, the has a Lulzbot mini, which uses fused filament fabrication (FFF) to produce parts out of a variety of plastic filaments (ABS, Nylon, and conductive filaments). The lab also has a Formlabs Form 1+, which uses the Stereolithographic Assembly (SLA) process with several photocurable resins and layer thickness from 25 – 200 microns to produce high detail prototypes.

Mission Critical Operations Lab

The Mission Critical Operations laboratory is focused on the intersection of electrical, mechanical, and information technology disciplines, where students obtain experiences relevant to automated warehousing, process control, remote programming, and troubleshooting. The core piece of equipment in this lab is the rack of Dell servers that delivers virtual machines that are connected to industrially relevant hardware. These virtual machines are reserved by students, along with exclusive access to a particular hardware setup for either PLC or microcontroller exercises. Two custom electromechanical setups have been developed (2 car elevator and 3 axis Cartesian robot) to date for use with Allen Bradley PLCs or National Instruments microcontrollers.

The lab also includes a Baxter Research Robot, which is designed for human-robot collaborative tasks and remote access. In addition to two 6 degree of freedom arms and 3 cameras, the robot features ultrasonic sensors to determine the location of people or obstacles to prevent collisions without resorting to physical barriers. The lab has also recently acquired an OptiTrack Camera based localization system to track the position of robots in surface

Laboratory for Instrumentation, Sensors and Power Electronics (LISPEL)

The laboratory features a broad variety of capabilities for design, building and testing of electronic circuits. It is also equipped with instruments allowing for basic studies of electrical properties of dielectric materials under controlled environmental conditions. Example most recent projects include:

  • Energy harvesting using macro-fiber composite piezoelectric materials
  • Verification of frequency estimators in commercial Phasor Measurement Units (in collaboration with SEL, ABB, GE and NI)
  • Control of injection and combustion processes in internal combustion engines using electric and magnetic fields (collaboration with UNC Charlotte’s Motorsports Lab)
  • Design and construction of Pulsed Electroacoustic setup for testing of dielectrics (collaboration with DOW Chemical)
  • Dielectric properties of fly ash (collaboration with North West Univ. in Potchefstroom, South Africa)
  • Thermal modeling of High Voltage cables (collaboration with Southwire)
  • Electric field sensors (collaboration with Army Research Laboratories)

The laboratory has the following equipment:

  • Environmental chamber BTL433, -20 to +180 Co, 10% to 95% RH
  • NI PXI system
    • FlexRIO FPGA development modules
    • Arbitrary waveform generator
    • 8 channel oscilloscope module
    • motion controller
  • IET Labs 7600+ precision 2 MHz LCR meter (liquid – powder – solid characterization capability)
  • Keithley 6517B electrometer
  • HV amplifier Trek 10/10B (DC to 20 kHz AC, +/- 10 kV, 10 mA)
  • high current amplifier Kepco BOP 6-125MG (DC to 443Hz, 125 A, 6 V)
  • PC board rapid prototyping system T-Tech QCJ5
  • Circuit prototyping and modeling software`
  • other software (Matlab, Comsol. etc.)

Concrete and Cementitious Materials Research Laboratory

Smith 104 contains equipment to support hardened concrete tests for mechanical properties and durability performance. Equipment includes an automated coefficient of thermal expansion test machine, chloride content testing, rapid chloride permeability test apparatus, a large environmental chamber, and a range of other test setups. Two stereo microscopes with digital image analysis systems are available, as well as an automated air analysis system based on the scanner method. Sample preparation equipment for cutting, grinding, and polishing are also housed here. Non-destructive testing and evaluation equipment available to support this research includes acoustic emission equipment (with a waveform capture system), air permeability test apparatus, ultrasonic pulse velocity equipment, a 4-channel maturity meter, and two surface resistivity meters.