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  • Gearing up for changes in smart manufacturing: WVU engineer receives DOE grant

Gearing up for changes in smart manufacturing: WVU engineer receives DOE grant

Portrait of Thorsten Wuest

A West Virginia University researcher is moving the field of smart manufacturing forward with the help of a $901,486 grant awarded by the United States Department of Energy’s Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII), aimed atimprovingthe energy efficiency of manufacturing companies across the United States.


Gears are a key component in many industrial segments including automotive, energy generation and defense. According to Thorsten Wuest, the J. Wayne and Kathy Richards Faculty Fellow and assistant professor of industrial and management systems engineering in the Benjamin M.Statler Collegeof Engineering and Mineral Resources, the U.S. demand for gears is expected to grow by 6.4 percent to $40 billion in sales.

The collaborative project involves researchers from the University at Buffalo and Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies (ITAMCO). The researchers will develop a holistic hybrid model to predict the specific energy consumption of large-scale grinding processes, ultimately increasing the global competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers.

The project’s focal point is a large-scale internal double wheel end gear that is approximately 3 feet in diameter and is used in heavy mining and construction equipment. The processing time of such a gear is over 11 hours.

“In manufacturing there is not much previous work available, especially not at the level we are proposing with direct industrial application through our industrial partner Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies (ITAMCO) and the reach of CESMII,” Wuest said.

Wuest explained that hybrid analytics, merging traditional, physics-based modeling with data-driven machine learning models, is a relatively new field.

The proposed project will have a direct impact on the operations of ITAMCO, an advanced manufacturing and technology firm, in reducing the specific energy consumption of their most energy intensive processes, large-scale grinding, by at least 15 percent.

“With the recent manufacturing renaissance in the U.S., we all need to diligently strive towards more efficiency and globally competitive manufacturing processes,” Wuest said.

He explained that for the project’s focal CNC grinding systems, which are capable of producing large-scale gears, energy accounts for about 33 percent of the overall manufacturing cost.

“Reducing the energy consumption by improving the grinding strategy based on hybrid modeling does not only reduce the environmental impact, but it also improves the company’s bottom line and further increases the competitiveness of U.S. manufactured high-tech goods on the global marketplace,” he continued.

According to Wuest, grinding has the highest rate of energy consumption of all machining processes, and this process isn’t going anywhere soon.

“While the industry is exploring new technologies such as additive manufacturing to manufacture large gears, they are not mature enough and fail to achieve the required properties,” he said. “Grinding will remain the core technology to produce large-scale, high quality gear components for various industrial applications.”

The transferable results of this project will not only impact the competitiveness and energy consumption of the U.S. large-scale gear grinding industry but could ultimately lead to improvements in other manufacturing domains as well.

“This is a great opportunity for WVU and the Statler College to showcase our expertise in smart manufacturing,” Wuest said. “For our students, the insights will inform our classroom teaching and prepare them for leadership roles in manufacturing.”



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

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