Over the years, I’ve had several discussions with various members of the industry on the importance of education for the future of fluid power technologies. Although opinions vary, the general consensus has always held that more formal training and early exposure to hydraulics and pneumatics is critical to attracting youth to the field and moving the industry forward.
So it was with great delight last week during its Annual Conference that I listened to CEO Eric Lanke highlight the many successes The National Fluid Power Association’s had in this regard, particularly as it relates to early STEM education, partnerships with the Center for Compact & Efficient Fluid Power (CCEFP) universities, and funding for both students and schools and colleges.
Lanke’s Fluid Power Education & Technology Foundation Report showed that more than 3,500 students have been introduced to fluid power through the Fluid Power Challenge, an event that is near and dear to my heart. And Lanke said that Challenge materials inspired the development of curriculum in Wauwatosa, Wis., which has been shared to numerous states and even India. This, along with grants to purchase Fluid Power Challenge kits as well as grants to schools to hold the event, has meant that another 4,485 students have been introduced to the industry.
In addition, to encourage the development of new research labs at two-year colleges and four-year universities, the Foundation has awarded 47 grants to 28 different schools to create fluid power courses and curriculum since 2007. This has exposed more than 10,000 students to fluid power.
Lanke also pointed out that the NFPA and CCEFP are more closely aligning, helping to establish continued funding for the ongoing research at the seven CCEFP universities, which now have more than 100,000 square-feet of lab space dedicated to fluid power research. In addition, the CCEFP has increased the number of advanced degrees awarded by fluid power by 500%. This culminates in the Fluid Power Innovation & Research Conference (FPIRC), which both the NFPA and CCEFP jointly produced last year for the first time.
Also, during a quick chat with Kim Stelson, CCEFP director and mechanical engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, I learned that the CCEFP is looking to expand its annual research conference, the Fluid Power Innovation & Research Conference (FPIRC) 2015. Stelson said that through a partnership with NFPA and ASME/Bath, the CCEFP hopes to at least double the amount of research presentations given at the event slated for October 14-16 in Chicago. This goal will be achieved by inviting non-CCEFP universities and even fluid power manufacturers to present on critical research.
Stelson added that he hopes this will give the conference more of a feel like its European counterparts, like the IFK which is held in Aachen and Dresden, Germany; or the Scandinavian International Conference on Fluid Power, which is held in Tampere, Finland and in Linköping, Sweden.
Truly, the future is looking bright for fluid power education and research. All that’s needed is more. More universities and two-year schools adding courses. More companies and individuals donating time and money. And more competitions like the Fluid Power Challenge bringing fluid power into the classroom early. We can all do more. I look forward to seeing some of these challenges met in the coming year. Let’s put more stars on that map, folks.