Researcher to Develop Early Detection Systems for Electrical Failure
Nov. 6, 2015
Dr. Bilal Akin has earned a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which provides $500,000 in funding over the next five years.
When electrical systems fail, there are unexpected interruptions and serious safety issues that can easily account for millions of dollars in repair costs.
That’s why Dr. Bilal Akin, assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, is working to create tools that will allow self-monitoring systems that recognize the possibility of failure at the earliest stage.
His work has earned him a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which provides $500,000 in funding over the next five years.
“Continuously monitoring electrical systems is essential to prevent unexpected shutdowns and catastrophic failures that may result in fatal accidents or significant operation loss,” Akin said. ”However, current engineering tools are not mature enough to detect or identify failure precursors in real time, leading to a major reliability gap in wide bandgap semiconductor-based systems.”
Wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors allow devices to run at higher voltages, frequencies and temperatures, and are generally used for building more powerful electrical systems. WBG devices have been instrumental in developing the electrification of transportation and producing a highly automated modern grid. However, in harsh operating environments, these components are subjected to various mechanical and electrical stresses, wear and vibration that contribute to increased potential for equipment failure.
For example, if the rolling process in a hot steel mill stops due to a component failure, the cooling of the steel does not permit the rolling process to restart, but requires clearing the entire mill of the engaged steel and restarting the mill from scratch. This procedure takes hours or even days to complete, resulting in a number of issues.
“In the life cycle of energy conversion units in aircraft, electric ships or grid components, maintenance-related expenses constitute the largest part of operation cost and require special expertise.”
Current engineering tools used to improve system reliability focus on redundant power electronics components, design changes and integrated sensors.
“In the life cycle of energy conversion units in aircraft, electric ships or grid components, maintenance-related expenses constitute the largest part of operation cost and require special expertise,” Akin said.
Akin plans to investigate the roots of failure with accelerated aging tests that expose WBG devices to both thermal and electrical overstress. These tests will show the precursors of the failures and help to identify the fault patterns. Based on these tests, he hopes to develop online monitoring tools using existing system components.
“Right now there are no continuous monitoring mechanisms that immediately report faults of systems to the operator. Any energy conversion system without a real-time self-monitoring feature has to be observed through external and additional sensors; this requires additional hardware installation and cost. Every additional hardware or sensor introduces another weak point and reduces the overall reliability,” Akin said.
He is hopeful that the results of his work will be shared with professional committees and industry interested in identifying emerging technologies to create high-quality domestic products and manufacturing jobs for improving the United States’ global competitiveness.
“The preliminary results of ongoing studies have already been shared with local companies highly interested in developing fault diagnosis integrated circuits and smart gate drives,” Akin said.
On the educational side, Akin’s goal is to develop educational materials that provide an integrated view of relevant fields for training the next generation of power electronics engineers. He hopes to bring high school students with research and project experience into his laboratory. He said the technologies and tangible applications developed would serve as instruments to inspire and encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Akin is a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), associate editor of IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology and associate editor of IEEE Transactions on Industry Applications.
Akin is one of 14 Jonsson School faculty members supported by CAREER awards. Other 2015 recipients are Dr. Zhiqiang Lin, assistant professor of computer science, Dr. Carlos Busso, associate professor of electrical engineering, and Dr. Fatemeh Hassanipour, assistant professor of mechanical engineering.