UAH's Ravi Gorur predicts electrical
January 23, 2017
and damaging things can happen when electricity goes where itís not
supposed to, and those events can be very costly.
A new laboratory dedicated to predictive failure testing of electrical
insulators used by utilities, electrical component manufacturers,
aerospace firms and NASA is now open in the Engineering Building at The
University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).
"The whole idea of this lab is to evaluate materials used in power
transmission," says Dr. Ravi Gorur, chair of UAHís Department of
Electrical and Computer Engineering, who built and manages it.
Electrical transmission involves two materials, the conductor and the
insulator, Dr. Gorur says, and the conductor is usually much more stable
than the insulator.
"The insulating part is what deteriorates over time," he says. "The goal
is to identify how it will fail and when it will fail before it fails."
From left, Dr. Ravi Gorur with
doctoral student Meghana Ramesh, masters student Md Raquibuzzaman and
doctoral student Longfei Cui inside the Power Systems Insulation
Laboratoryís environmental chamber.
The Power Systems Insulation
Laboratory, as it is formally known, does real-time testing and computer
modeling of insulating materials exposed to conditions under which they
will degrade, including temperature variation, mechanical stress,
electrical stress, dirt buildup, corrosion, moisture and the inherent
natural decay of insulating materials.
"We want to test the insulator and predict its future performance," says
Dr. Gorur. "Itís like the warning lights that go on in your car dash to
tell you when trouble is coming. We want to predict when that warning
light is going to turn on so the user can take action before the
Prominent in the lab are a large copper screen clad Faraday cage that
protects researchers and electronic data acquisition equipment from high
voltage during testing, and a large metal environmental chamber where
insulators can be tested over long periods with various accumulations of
dirt and using moisture generated by a fogger thatís part of the
chamber. The environmental chamberís data acquisition equipment is
located in a nearby room.
"We find out what changes are happening and how long it takes for those
changes to affect performance," Dr. Gorur says. The real-time testing
and computer modeling go hand-in-hand to aid in understanding the
changes in the insulators being tested.
"The advantage of computer modeling is that you can use it to model a
wide variety of conditions," he says. "We are quite big into modeling
and we do use some commercial modeling products, but we also use some
packages that we have developed ourselves."
Computer modeling also helps the researchers Ė including high voltage
doctoral student Longfei Cui, electrical engineering doctoral student
Meghana Ramesh and electrical engineering masters student Md
Raquibuzzaman Ė to test extraterrestrial conditions.
example, NASA needs to know if, once it is up in space, how space will
affect an insulating material," Dr. Gorur says. Radiation and the space
atmosphere must be taken into account when making such predictions.
The labís data acquisition and
computer modeling equipment offer clients nondestructive testing
"Nondestructive testing is in high demand, is conducted at lower
voltages, and calls for sensitive testing equipment and procedures,"
says Dr. Gorur. "That calls for very precise procedures and for taking
care of all the details."
The lab has also featured prominently in undergraduate research, as
well, having served as the site for a number of senior design projects.
Prior to coming to UAH, Dr. Gorur ran a similar laboratory at Arizona
State University. As part of his start-up package, UAH paid for moving
the equipment from ASU. He started to construct the lab in UAH in 2015.
He has added additional equipment using his start-up research funds and
is actively seeking research projects from utilities, equipment
manufacturers and federal funding agencies.
"We are ready," he says, "to serve clients with predictive insulator