ERC Faculty and Students Benefit from Hands-On Learning Tools

Achievement date: 

At Purdue University, one of the universities affiliated with the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at the University of Minnesota, both faculty and students are using novel hands-on learning tools. A micro-fluid power excavator is a centerpiece for educational outreach activities, and a water-hydraulics test stand exemplifies another hands-on learning tool.


At Purdue, water hydraulics has proven to be an effective medium in helping pre-college and undergraduate students better understand fluid power. The micro-excavator is useful in illustrating a fluid-power system, and its attributes are well suited to pre-college students. The water-hydraulics test stand has been developed for use in one of the university’s undergraduate instructional laboratories. The micro-excavator is already being duplicated for work with a number of student audiences, and plans are underway to replicate the test stand as well. Both projects demonstrate the benefits of partnering and multi-disciplinary teamwork.


The micro-excavator, powered by water hydraulics (or pneumatics) and small enough to fit in a hand-carried storage bin (see accompanying figure), is increasing understandings of fluid-power technology and its importance. Extensive field tests with students indicate that the micro-excavator is an effective hands-on teaching tool. An accompanying curriculum guide lays out strategies to maximize the tool's teaching power for students in grades 8–12. (Teachers involved in the project have assured that this curriculum correlates with Indiana's education standards and outcomes.) This innovative, learning resource is also useful for non-classroom audiences, such as museums and corporate lobbies. The micro- excavator was built at Purdue by a team that included faculty, engineering undergraduate and graduate students, high school teachers (who are also involved in Project Lead The Way), and staff members of the Minnesota Science Museum (SMM). The National Fluid Power Association (NFPA) assisted the ERC in providing financial support; both SMM and NFPA are affiliated ERC organizations.

The high-pressure (max p=140 bar) test stand, using tap water as the working fluid, was developed within the Fluid Power in Fluid Mechanics project supported by the ERC and NFPA. Many junior engineering students have successfully operated the water-hydraulic test stand, documenting their work in conventional laboratory-report formats. Given the success of its first application, the teaching methodology will become a standard for introducing fluid-power concepts to Purdue’s mechanical engineering students. Other students will also benefit from this project. Plans call for Fluid Power in Fluid Mechanics to be presented as a teaching model to CCEFP-participating universities and to academic institutions outside the Center.