A small contingent of Michigan Tech folks, including Assistant Professor Nathir Rawashdeh, Applied Computing, had the privilege of touring the Evergereen Test Facility of ORBION Space Technology last week to check out the site and learn about the improvements that Rawashdeh’s project has made.
The group visited with Joe Panella, ORBION VP for Manufacturing; Michigan Tech graduate Aaron Wendzel (Electrical Engineering Technology-EET) a senior systems engineer at Orbion; and current Michigan Tech EET undergraduate Justin Rish.
ORBION uses refrigeration systems to cool test chambers for their plasma thrusters, which are deployed in the cold vacuum of space. Their refrigeration test system employed feedback controllers to actuate eight cooling tower fans to dissipate the extracted outdoor heat. However, this control system did not relay information back to the control room, and depending on the outside weather, the cooling fans sometimes ran at low speeds causing them to stall.
Rawashdeh helped develop a solution. With his project assistant Justin Rish, supervised by Aaron Wendzel, a method was devised using Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) to monitor and actualize the fan speeds, The seven-week project, was accomplished in May and June 2023, and funded by ORBION.
Rawashdeh is grateful for the opportunity to work with Houghton-based ORBION Space Technology. “I hope such projects will strengthen the academia-industry links for the benefit of all parties, most notably students who can gain exciting real-world engineering and technology knowledge and experience before and after graduation from Michigan Tech.”
Title: Automatic Control System Implementation for Evergreen Cooling Towers using PLCs
ORBION Space Technology, in Houghton, uses refrigeration systems to cool test chambers for qualifying Hall-effect thrusters for deployment in the cold vacuum of space. The current system employs feedback controllers to actuate eight cooling tower fans to dissipate the extracted heat outdoors. The control system does not relay information back to the control room at this time, and depending on the outside weather, the cooling fans sometimes run at low speeds causing them to stall. In such cases, a manual operator intervention is required to reset the system. In addition, the cooling fans all run in unison, when it is enough to run only some fans depending on the use case and weather conditions. The proposed work entails the automation and monitoring of the eight Evergreen cooling towers located at the test ORBION test facility. The fan speeds, and fault messages, of the eight towers will be monitored and actuated by Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). Dedicated proportional integral differential (PID) controllers will measure the coolant temperature on both compressors. This information will be relayed to the control room, as well as to the PLCs to perform the fan actuation. A detailed system design suggestion is presented in this proposal. This proposal aims to support a collaboration between ORBION and Michigan Tech’s Applied Computing department in the form of (7 weeks of ) summer work for a student (undergraduate) supervised by a faculty member (Nathir Rawashdeh, PhD) in 2023. This first project will, hopefully pave the way for addition future collaboration.
Principal Investigator (PI): Nathir Rawashdeh, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Applied Computing
Personnel: Justin Rish (EET BS student) performed the work at the ORBION facility under the direct supervision of Mr. Aaron Wendzel, Senior Systems Engineer at ORBION.