Hydraulic Trainer for Hands-on and Virtual Labs for Fluid Power Curriculum
Keywords:Fluid Power Education, Hands-on experience, Fluid Power, Virtual Simulator, Online Learning, Object-oriented programming, Digital twin
Hands-on experiences constitute a high value, perhaps unreplaceable, element of applied engineering disciplines such as fluid power. Hydraulic and pneumatic trainers have been developed over the years to expose students to applications of fluid power technology. However, the traditional approach for educating students through hands-on lab is recently under high pressure due to the following aspects: a) the outdated design of the traditional trainers that seldom integrate modern electro-hydraulic components, data acquisition systems, and visual aids; b) the increased need for online education. These factors have been endangering the number of students – already low compared to the industry needs – enrolled in fluid power programs.
This paper describes the effort made at Purdue University to develop a modern hydraulic trainer along with its digital twin that tackles the above challenges. A novel physical trainer was formulated to allow 29 lab experiences that span from basic concepts of single actuator control to more sophisticated layouts for controlling multiple actuators. The trainer largely uses electro-hydraulic components, sensors as well as a DAQ system connected with a touch base screen, aimed at maximizing the student’s feeling of experiencing modern technology. A virtual trainer that replicates the physical trainer is developed and implemented with the commercial software Unity 3D. The virtual trainer uses the CAD drawings of the physical components of the actual trainer, and it allows reproducing all the main aspects of the real lab experience, including typical students’ mistakes and realistic operating noise. This trainer simulator was successfully used for the first time at Purdue in Fall 2020, and it will represent a valid option for virtual hands-on experiences for distance learning students for years to come.