A specialist hydraulic engineering training facility, launched by The JCB Academy and Parker Hannifin in March 2015, is teaching young UK engineers valuable lessons in how fluid power works.
The JCB Academy provides specialist engineering tuition for students aged 14 to 19 years from its base in Rocester, UK. Established in 2010 as the UK's first University Technical College, the Academy was established to teach students business and engineering skills in a new and practical way; it aims to develop engineers and business leaders for the future.
The need for specialist hydraulic engineering training
As the latest state of engineering report produced by Engineering UK warns, "Failing to meet our engineering workforce requirements will not only damage the UK economically, but it will also have a
detrimental effect on individual employees’ prosperity and the economic sustainability of engineering employers... [and] the single biggest threat to success lies with education: to meet demand, we need enough
young people to study STEM subjects at schools and colleges."
Offering the right environment - and combining academic knowledge with practical skills development - is therefore critical for many education providers. Whilst the Academy's teaching standards are already high, complementing academic knowledge with practical skills is very important. As director of apprenticeships Jim Bailey explains: "We rely on our sponsors to add real world knowledge and expertise to our curriculum."
The JCB Academy and Parker had close links for several years. Then in 2014, the partners discussed opportunities to give students more hands-on hydraulic training experience.
Initially Parker agreed to donate a hydraulic training rig, to help boost the academy’s fluid power curriculum. But as work progressed, both partners saw the potential for an even bigger and better project. A meeting with the principal and board of governors followed, and together the partners sketched ideas for a more comprehensive learning space.
Inside the hydraulic training area
The new training area was specially designed to help apprentices explore the relationship between mechanical, electrical, and fluid power. It combines academic learning with a series of interactive challenges.
Parker's project manager Nigel Smith says: "The area needed to be used by everyone from Key Stage 4 through to A level and apprenticeship students. So we had to strike a balance between making the educational material interesting and relevant at entry level, but also credible and useful to older students."
Parker worked with students and teachers to discuss ideas and possible layouts. Two apprentices were directly involved in helping to develop the project, and their input was valuable. Nigel continues: "At a couple of points, the apprentices encouraged us to take a step back - and ask questions, or stimulate thought, rather than 'tell' people what to do. This made some of the challenges more powerful than they'd have been if we filled in all the gaps ourselves."
After a few months of intensive work, the new Academy training area launched in March 2015, as part of National Apprenticeships Week. An overview of some elements of the centre is shown below.
Fluid power bench - this interactive bench includes conventional and fluid power snooker cues, a miniature backhoe, hydraulic push-touch drawers and the ‘Pyramid of Power’.
Hydraulic system drawers - a set of ‘hidden’ drawers with soft-touch open and close mechanism is set into the base of the fluid power bench. Each drawer features questions such as what, where and how the parts of a hydraulic system generate, control and deliver fluid power. There's a clear link between theory and practical application.
Traditional and fluid power snooker cues - two contrasting cues demonstrate alternative approaches. The traditional cue is held in place, and students push this to move a ball along the track into a large square pocket, with built-in collection and return area. The fluid power cue features a hidden pneumatic system - simulating hydraulic power transfer from the cue handle cylinder to three ball strike cylinders. Again, balls roll along the track to the square pocket.
Miniature backhoe - a fully-operational arm simulates an actual backhoe
system, which students can control through an integrated joystick.
Hydraulic test rig - Students can experience a real hydraulic system, by using this customisable test bench with hoses and connectors.
This equipment shows the fundamentals of hydraulic testing. It also helps students to shift from theoretical understanding to practical handling.
World in Motion display - this graphic wall backs onto the Fluid Thinkers display. The visual highlights some ways in which hydraulics has powered technology over the past 100 years. It includes numerous projects that Parker has contributed to, including the Apollo 11 moon landings, robotics in health and the BLOODHOUND world land speed record bid.
Nutcracker suite - this system uses a manually-operated hydraulic pump to work a nut-cracking cylinder, showing power and control. The fully-enclosed machine system delivers a new nut from the supply hopper, and drops the cracked nut into a collection bin. This allows designated teachers to fill, empty and dispose of nuts safely.
Fluid Thinkers display - this graphic wall charts a timeline of fluid power through the ages. It features some notable scientists, physicists and industrial engineers who influenced hydraulic thinking. The display also features pull-out seating, allowing for flexible lesson delivery.
Pyramid of Power - this interactive display looks at the importance of power in different forms, and explores how power is transferred from one form to another. The different faces of the pyramid rotate and illuminate, prompting questions and suggesting areas of physics to explore.
Pascal's U-tube challenge - This interactive push test introduces the hydraulic jack principle and links to the theory behind the U-tube system. Two connected cylinders of different diameters are linked to a pair of plungers. Pushing the plungers shows how the system reacts in terms of force, pressure, and displacement.
Lessons from the first few months
The Academy has found the new facility to be a very useful addition. Jim Bailey says:
"We've mainly been using the area with apprentices - they've found it invaluable in bringing their training to life. They can select and build hydraulic circuits on the training rig with supervision. And when they want to do independent enquiry, they can go into the area, run basic experiments and use the questions to further their learning.
"We've also enriched the curriculum at Key Stage 4 with small, focused workshops. This introduces the students to basic hydraulic circuits and designs. Using real components and seeing the context gives things far more impact.
"Ultimately, having a partnership with a professional company gives direction to the area. It's not just 'schooling', there is proper business orientation too.
"The professional relationship that we're continuing to build together is a real benefit. We've got established contacts and a strong understanding of what we both want to achieve. With Parker's knowledge, expertise and support, we're adding context and relevance - which is ultimately what being a UTC is all about."
Content by Nigel Smith, Parker Sales UK (pictured)
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