By Jay Kapat, Sc.D., professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, University of Central Florida
Sunny Florida’s global reputation for world-class theme parks and beaches overshadows a thriving turbine design ecosystem that has become unparalleled in the industry.
Welcome to Florida’s “Turbine Turnpike,” powered in large part by partnerships between industry leaders and the University of Central Florida, which features 11,000 future engineers and a robust research faculty in one of America’s largest engineering programs.
Five of the six major original equipment manufacturers have a significant presence in Central and South Florida, and they are loosely linked by the Florida Turnpike. Both Siemens Power and Gas and Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems have headquarters in Orlando. PSM of Ansaldo Energia in Jupiter has been expanding steadily in recent years. Also, Pratt & Whitney has major operations in Palm Beach County for its aviation turbine engines, as does GE Aviation in the Tampa area.
Surrounding these five OEMs in Florida are a growing array of design support, analysis and retrofit companies, including Florida Turbine Technology, PowerPhase, Agilis, Belcan, Chromalloy, Ethos Energy, TTS Services and ETS Power. Combined, these companies employ 5,000 engineers, and more jobs are coming. For example, Doosan Heavy Industries recently opened offices in Palm Beach Gardens.
The OEMs and their supply chain place a significant demand for trained engineers and for local research and testing collaboration. Enter the 64,000-student University of Central Florida. Aviation Week hails UCF as supplying more graduates to aerospace and defense companies than any other university.
In 2005, a unique partnership was formalized between UCF and Siemens, with all efforts to center on a custom-built, dedicated laboratory at UCF called the Siemens Energy Center (SEC). Since then, continuous investment by Siemens – and constant interactions between Siemens engineers, managers and SEC staff, UCF students and professors – have bolstered turbomachinery and energy research at UCF.
In 2012, UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science created the Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research (CATER) to perform research and student training in a system-focused approach to turbomachinery-based systems for power generation, aviation and space propulsion.
Currently engaged are 11 core faculty members along with 70 graduate and 60 undergraduate students.
Besides Siemens, CATER has established broad partnerships with Ansaldo Energia/ Alstom and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Corresponding research covers aerodynamics, advanced cooling, combustion, advanced materials and coatings, mechanical and dynamic integrity and transient response. CATER’s unique partnership model for industry includes: complete access control, with 24/7 unrestricted access to partner personnel; a complete firewall around laboratory activities with regular audits from the industry partner: and complete protection of proprietary information and IP as outlined in a framework agreement.
This UCF approach to partnership with industry has led to key components of next-generation OEM products being tested or researched at CATER or by UCF. This effort has been greatly helped by the Florida HighTech Corridor program through matching industry funds for research. Several new courses, each co-taught by an industry technology expert, have been introduced, which cover practical, real-life examples and include hands-on and design components. These courses are being packaged for a professional Science Masters in Energy Systems Engineering to debut in fall 2018. UCF’s growing emphasis on turbomachinery research and related courses has significantly boosted job and internship opportunities for UCF engineering students at Florida companies. And several full-time employees at these companies pursue master’s or doctoral degrees at UCF. In addition, Siemens is offering a number of Siemens Doctoral Fellowships at UCF, and GE has sponsored a GE GRC Doctoral Fellow at UCF.
Currently, CATER focuses on three key, multi-disciplinary initiatives: alternative cycles and fuels, including super-critical carbon dioxide power systems; digital twin platforms with new sensors and algorithms based on a stochastic approach: and new designs enabled by innovative manufacturing and materials.
The aviation and space industries in and around Florida are intertwined with the turbine industry.
Many of the segments and technical needs overlap. And, as the turbine engine design ecosystem in Central and South Florida expands, the “Turbine Turnpike” stands to keep Florida surging in the fast lane of the future.