Last month, I had a chance to stop in at the University of Minnesota to take a tour of the Center for Compact & Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP). I have always been one of those individuals that wants to leave work behind when I go on vacation, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see first-hand some of the work that the CCEFP is doing. So I took a few hours on my Friday while my husband and daughters walked the campus to chat with Kim Stelson, Center Director and mechanical engineering professor at UMinn.
Throughout the three-hour long visit, Stelson highlighted some of the research projects Center students and researchers are working on, but he focused on how the organization will continue to operate once its National Science Foundation funding starts to decrease the next year, with complete funding ending May 30, 2016.
Currently, Stelson says, the Center’s research, which encompasses seven university’s work and is supported by about 50 industry partners, is funded by an $8 million budget, half of which comes from NSF funding. The rest comes from university matches and industry membership.
To make up for this, the Center plans a three-legged approach to reaching a $9 million budget for continued research into fluid power projects focusing on efficiency, power density, safety, and more.
The proposed structure for this three-legged approach could include:
- Receiving about $2.5-3 million in associated projects, where research projects are conducted when researchers find money from outside sources on their own.
- Receiving $3 million in membership fees, which the CCEFP hopes to grow to about $2 million. To get to this number, the CCEFP is working on a membership structure where companies who want to join the Industry Advisory Board (IAB) could pay a $100,000 fee. This will give them royalty-free access to all patents. For smaller companies, the CCEFP is working with organizations like the NFPA and even the Japanese Fluid Power Society to “bundle companies” and buy up to five seats. This will allow smaller companies to join the IAB.
- Obtaining large government grants, as there is a big push for the Federal government to fund manufacturing. Stelson said this is a key area, as fluid power is used heavily in manufacturing, with pneumatics in industrial automation, hydraulics in large forging applications and more. In addition, there is great room for improvement in efficiency and waste reduction in fluid power, another area the government wants to fund.
“The industry really needs to work together on this and we have to create a structure that is fair to everyone,” Stelson said.
Although the CCEFP still has time under the NSF funding, it is time to start looking to the future. This organization is critical to the continued growth and development of manufacturers and users of fluid power equipment, so I hope that industry will step up as it looks for new funding options. Contact the CCEFP at (612) 624-4993 or visit www.ccefp.org to get involved.