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Design, Redesign and Detective Work

By Brent Nowlin

February 24, 2000

Currently I am working on three projects, which are in different stages of their lifespan.

The first project I am working on is something that does not even exist now and won't exist for a couple years. I am helping to engineer plans for a new turbine testing facility that will be used to test large turbine sections from turbine engines. A turbine is a machine that takes the energy of moving air and converts the energy to turn a shaft, like a windmill. This testing facility will be built in a room that is about size of a school gym.

In this facility, one of the innovations we are planning is to capture or absorb the power generated by the turbine engines being tested. We will give this energy back to the electric company in the form of power for the electrical grid. We will not be able to return all of the power we use. The turbines are only about 90% efficient at this point. There is always some energy loss that is impossible to recover.

We hope that this new facility will be available in 3-4 years.

The second project I am working on involves upgrading or remodeling the compressor rig facility. A compressor is the opposite of a turbine. You can think of a compressor as a fan, or a machine that coverts shaft power into the energy of moving (compressed) air.

The compressor rig had been mothballed, because no one was using it. Since it was last used, there have been many changes in the technology. The new equipment requires changes to the mechanical and electrical systems and to the computer programs. The goal is to make the compressor section of a turbine engine more efficient, but it has proven to be a real challenge.

So far, we have completed the skeleton of the remodeled facility. This was a challenge in part because we did not have all of the exact requirements. The way I resolved this was to estimate the number of things that will be needed, and will modify the systems as the requirements are more defined.

Detective Work:
The third project I am working on is to keep an exiting test facility operational. This involves making adjustments for individual test requirements, fixing things and routine safety inspections.

This is like detective work, sometimes we call it trouble shooting. When something breaks, for example, we might not know why it stopped working. Then we use the scientific method. We make a hypothesis about what caused the problem and then we test our theory to see if it is correct. Sometimes our hypothesis is wrong, and it turns out to be a good thing. For example the part that need replacing may be a cheaper part than what we originally imagined.


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