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Ohio State and Honda steer research toward transportation innovation

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Invitees and potential industry collaborators listen to a presentation during the grand opening of the SIMCenter. Credit: Michael Huson / Campus Editor

Invitees and potential industry collaborators listen to a presentation during the grand opening of the SIMCenter. Credit: Michael Huson / Campus Editor

Ohio State and Honda opened the doors of the Simulation Innovation and Modeling Center to the public May 21 with a grand opening aimed to drive future collaboration at OSU.

Potential collaborators from automotive and software industries were invited to the SIMCenter, located in Smith Laboratory, to partner up on vehicle manufacturing and product performance research.

The center, which is part of the College of Engineering, uses computer-aided engineering techniques to build virtual prototypes of vehicle components, as well as virtual simulations to aid transportation industry innovation.

Shawn Midlam-Mohler, associate director of the SIMCenter, said that although the final testing of car parts involves physical prototypes, there is a growing tendency within the industry to replace those prototypes with virtual models earlier in the development process to save time and money.

“No longer do you build the vehicle or the subsystem in the vehicle; you’re building a model of it,” Midlam-Mohler said. “And our ability to do that is just getting better and better and better.”

With the growing efficiency of virtual prototypes, OSU and Honda invited representatives from the software industry and automotive industry, including Ford and Honda, to showcase current research and the potential to expand with future collaborations.

Allen Sheldon, who manages Honda’s involvement with the SIMCenter as principal engineer from Honda R&D Americas, said he looks forward to seeing the center grow beyond just Honda’s involvement.

“It’s really exciting,” Sheldon said. “I’m really glad to see a significant number of industry people come out today for the opening event.”

Honda gifted $5 million to Ohio State in 2013, helping launch the SIMCenter, which began conducting computational research last year. Honda and OSU have been collaborating on education, research and development initiatives since in 1988, according to the College of Engineering’s website.

“This is a huge growth in the relationship between Honda and OSU and in brand new research activity that we haven’t been engaged with in the past,” Sheldon said.

OSU is hoping the grand opening’s welcome will be heard by not only competitors within the automotive industry, but by large appliance and aerospace sectors as well, Midlam-Mohler said.

“The solutions to these problems should be shared and can be shared amongst all those folks,” he said. “Everyone contributes a little bit and you can get a lower-cost solution.”

Midlam-Mohler said although Honda has put a lot of money into the SIMCenter, Honda has made it clear they encourage industry involvement.

“Things are moving so fast, they want to make sure we’re moving fast enough to be a research partner with them and develop new stuff,” Midlam-Mohler said. “But research is a tool to make students – undergraduate level, graduate level and then training post-docs.”

Honda is not the only company interested in increasing the use of computer-aided engineering techniques in development, Sheldon said. But he added that finding enough graduates with these skills can be difficult.

“One of the aspects of this center that we’re looking forward to is it would provide a focus for students who are trained in these techniques and methods that could be hired by us and by other companies as well,” Sheldon said.

Midlam-Mohler acknowledged the same need to produce students and researchers with the capabilities and experience to fulfill the industry’s demand.

And future collaboration and increased research at the center could help create the need for more graduate student positions at OSU, Midlam-Mohler said.

He added there was also interest in the creation of a local internship program, which could afford undergraduate students on-campus job opportunities in engineering that would facilitate experience and engagement with individuals already working in the industry.

Jacob Whiteman, a master’s student in engineering, has been working in the SIMCenter for several months, researching external flow and drag reduction to increase vehicle efficiency. Research like his could be applied in efforts to increase an automobile’s gas mileage.

Whiteman said he was excited about the potential for increased industry involvement at SIMCenter, and that he looks forward to collaborating with industry researchers.

Although Whiteman noted his external flow research wasn’t industry-led, or commissioned by Honda, a poster of his work was on display during the opening.

“After hearing all the industry leaders talk about (collaboration), and when Shawn was talking about us, I felt, as a student, I was a valuable resource,” he said.

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