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PSU automotive program one of 12 proposals chosen for federal grant

A $95,000 grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture will enable the Department of Automotive Technology at Pitt State to purchase a hydraulic training board to train personnel in the agriculture industry.  

Tim Dell, professor and coordinator of the automotive technology department’s diesel and heavy equipment emphasis, says that the new hydraulic board purchased with the grant money will “take our curriculum to the next level.”  

“…We already have numerous quality training aids, simulators and heavy equipment machines,” Dell said. “Purchasing this particular hydraulic board allows us to hone fundamental principles with students in the most effective fashion. The board is capable of operating all four of the most common off-highway hydraulic systems: open center, pressure compensating, pre-spool load sensing, and post-spool load sensing (known as flow sharing). However, the board offers much more. For example, the board has a unique overrunning hydraulic cylinder, with a spring at the bottom so that students can visualize what happens to a runaway cylinder when the circuit is not designed correctly. Plus, the cylinder has a spring at the end of its travel, so that once the oil catches up with the cylinder, then they can visualize what the fluid is actually doing when the cylinder overcomes the spring at the end of its travel. The board has a sight glass that can be placed in series with the cylinder so that students can visually see the vapor bubbles that occur during cavitation. The board also has a graduated glass cylinder that has two ports that allows students to visually see fluid flowing from individual circuits, such as the bypass circuit in an open center hydraulic system, or the fluid that was discharged from an accumulator. The board is equipped with dual variable displacement load sensing piston pumps to deliver power to each side of the board allowing two different lab groups to work on the board simultaneously. It has isolation valves that allows the two groups to work independently of each other. One board is being purchased with the grant, and the Department of Automotive was able to pool funding with the KCCTE (Kansas Center for Career and Technical Education) and COT (College of Technology) to purchase a second board. This means with two boards that are double sided, we can place four students on each side of a board and have lab with 16 students.”  

The equipment will be used to train students in the agriculture industry.  

“Hydraulic systems can be challenging for all industries, including the agricultural industry,” Dell said. “The off-highway hydraulic industry is arguably one of the most advanced portions of the hydraulic industry as opposed to the industrial hydraulic industry. In addition, numerous degree programs that support this industry do not have large concentrations of advanced hydraulic instruction, but rather just a class or two on the topic. Couple that challenge with the common turnover that takes place every day with agricultural machine manufacturers and agricultural dealerships, and now you can see the need for this instruction.”  

Dell has attended classes on the boards in Canada and Germany.  

“In the process of investigating the different hydraulic boards that were available, I found the Bosch Rexroth board in a school on the east coast of the U.S.,” Dell said. “In the process of trying to further evaluate the boards, the closest place that I could attend training on the boards were in Canada and Germany. I attended a class on the boards in 2018 in Edmonton Canada, and two classes in Germany in 2019.”  

Professors can always use textbooks to teach students but having this equipment on hand allows students to physically see it and work with it which provides a better understanding of the machine and how each part of it works.  

“…(One) example would be, to ask a student, ‘When a cylinder reaches the end of travel in an open center hydraulic system, if the directional control valve is continued to be held in a metered or feathered position, where is the balance of the fixed displacement pump flow going?” Dell said. “Most folks will get this answer wrong, and the board will allow the participants to physically see the results that would otherwise be hidden inside the plumbing. There are numerous other capabilities such as learning about the performance characteristics of pilot-controlled joysticks, learning about steering systems, relief valves, load holding valves, and a deeper understanding of the directional control valves. What initially drew my interest towards these boards was that they were equipped with flow sharing valves (post spool compensation). This is one of the challenging areas that students struggle to comprehend. I have had a veteran instructor who has taught this content for decades, ask me, “How do you teach this content other than saying it is better?” These boards provide the opportunity to experience firsthand the technology in one subject content area at a time, rather than being overwhelmed with the multitude of machine systems can be appear as spaghetti soup. We gave a tour one time to a large construction firm. When this equipment manager strolled past one of our machines with the panels removed, he quickly wanted to take a photograph of the spaghetti soup of controls that were located on the machine, honestly in consideration of trying to stay away from future purchases of this machine due to its complexity. He wanted to save his personnel the headaches of having to deal with that complexity of systems. Students can also experience this if you throw them immediately deep into a machine. The boards allow us to concentrate on one system at a time.”  

There are many advantages that having the equipment on hand will give to students in the program.   

“It will allow us to cover the topic in class, then walk out immediate to the lab and then apply what was presented in the classroom,” Dell said. “Sometimes it is easier to first demonstrate a technology before presenting it, and this will also allow us that capability in an easier fashion than using a larger machine, in a safe environment, that allows students easier access to the components.”  

Dell’s department will offer 12 different workshops for agriculture industry personnel over a span of three years.  

The workshops, which will be held in the Kansas Technology Center, will be open to technicians, instructors, agricultural manufacturing personnel including engineers, field representatives and hotline troubleshooters.    

“A lab equipped with these two boards, along with our hydrostatic drive simulators, heavy equipment and numerous other training aids, will provide our students with a first-class education in hydraulic systems, hydrostatic drives and heavy equipment systems,” Dell said. 

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