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Nebraska Engineering students in top 3 teams at international wind energy event

In February, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Electrical Engineering Ph.D. students Dingguo Lu and Jie Cheng traveled to Vestas Technology R&D Centre in Aarhus, Denmark for the Grand Final of Vestas' 2011 Winnovation Case Competition.

Each year Vestas, an international company focusing on wind energy solutions, gathers top engineering students with ideas to benefit its work for clients. This year, UNL was among 30 teams selected from hundreds of entries worldwide; in their first year at the Winnovation event, the UNL participants placed in the top three teams.

Topics in the competition’s case challenge included power plant and electrical engineering, supply chain management, and production quality issues. On Feb. 10 at Aarhus, Lu and Cheng presented their submitted solution that won them entry to the competition: “Quality in Production: Securing Product Quality through Testing.” The judges included Vestas executives, specialists and managers working in that area of expertise.

Lu, who led the UNL team, proposed a novel quality control technology using the Statistical Process Control System (SPCS), Statistical Quality Control System (SQCS), Ergonomic Optimization System (EOS), and Operational Condition Monitoring System (OCMS). He said the UNL team’s goal was to best help Vestas in its goal to secure the highest possible product quality before the products leave the factories.

Lu and Cheng next participated individually in new teams addressing Case 1, a mixed challenge that focused on business certainty issues. Vestas representatives mentored the teams, which worked that afternoon into the early hours of the next day; Lu said some teams slept less than three hours that night.

On the morning of Feb. 11, teams presented their Case 1 solutions to the judges; then, based on performance with the preliminary case and Case 1, participants were culled to three teams of three students each, which advanced to solve Case 2 that afternoon.

Both UNL team members survived what Lu called the “fierce contention of the preliminary contest.” The remaining teams then addressed Case 2 on wind turbine construction supply and installation.

“This time, we had only three hours to solve the new case,” Lu said. For Case 2, “we needed to identify the problems, generate the solution and prepare the presentation within this time.” The final three teams went straight to work without stopping for lunch, Lu said.

The three finalist teams shared their solutions in 10-minute presentations to the judges and the non-finalists, followed by a few minutes of Q&A, Lu said. Their work was judged on criteria including innovation, variability, quality of presentation in terms of structure and content and oral skills, and relevance of the solution.

“Although we did not get the big final prize, we did learn a lot from this event,” Lu said. Beyond their strong performance, both Nebraska Engineering students said their participation “dramatically enriched our experience in engineering.”

“It also greatly enhanced our abilities to solve an actual problem,” Lu said. “I want to say great thanks again to Wei Qiao and Jerry Hudgins with UNL’s Department of Electrical Engineering; Michael Riley, Jeff Woldstad and Ram Bishu with the Department of Industrial and Management Systems Engineering; and (Nebraska Engineering alumni) Norm Newhouse and Ken Halvorsen with Lincoln Composites for their direction and suggestions.”

“I was impressed to see the quality of our students and their work in the Vestas competition, with the preparation time and effort they put in and the teamwork that included Nebraska Engineering faculty and alumni,” said Jerry Hudgins, professor and chair of the UNL Department of Electrical Engineering.“Some of the competition aspects went beyond engineering and into business areas, but our students quickly came up to speed with timely responses that were competitive with students from around the world.”

“Much of these students’ participation came from their own motivation,” Hudgins said, “and their finish as Vestas finalists speaks well of them and their education at Nebraska Engineering, as well as the learning environment at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which facilitates our students’ ability to stretch and attain this type of extraordinary experience.”

Pictured below, from left, are: Wei Qiao, Dingguo Lu, Jie Cheng, and Jerry Hudgins.

Qiao, Lu, Cheng and Hudgins