By Dawn Wiseman
Mamoun Medraj (Mechanical and Industrial Engineering) knows the secret to successful collaboration. “Never work with people who have your skill set, only with those whose skills are complementary to your own.”
That advice is serving him well. He is currently involved in two large-scale efforts funded primarily with Collaborative Research Development grants from NSERC.
The first, a four-year project with General Motors, is looking at how to replace the aluminum and steel alloys currently used in car construction with lighter- weight magnesium alloys. While the project’s principal investigator is at the École Polytechnique, Medraj and his team will receive about half of the $1.2-million grant. A new research associate has already been hired, and there are opportunities for a significant number of graduate students.
He pointed out that the research could have benefits beyond improved fuel efficiencies in GM vehicles. “There are many magnesium suppliers in Canada, particularly in southern Ontario.” These manufacturers would likely profit handsomely from a shift in metal use by major car companies.
The second project, for Pratt and Whitney Canada, focuses on induction hardening of gears used in airplane engines. This process produces composite gears that benefit from increased durability on their exposed surfaces, but still maintain properties, like toughness and ductility, in their bulk to help the gears resist wear much better.
“Philippe Bocher at ETS (the principal investigator) has one of the only large-scale induction hardening facilities in a university in North America,” he said. “Our part of the work will focus on the thermodynamic modeling and residual stress measurements.” The work will provide a fundamental understanding of how to produce the precise hardening required.
While these collaborations are based completely in engineering, one of Medraj's other projects took him further outside the box.
A few years ago, he received a phone call from artist Jennifer Macklem. She and her partner, Kip Jones, had designed a sculpture that had been chosen to sit in front of city hall in Moncton, N.B. But she had a problem.
“The sculpture was a 50-foot curved ribbon of stainless steel, and there was no machine in the region that was sophisticated enough to produce the complex bending required of the finished product,” explained Medraj.
While machines capable of doing the job were available in other areas, Macklem had no budget to either ship out her materials or to hire a subcontractor. She was looking for someone who could help her figure out how to produce the end result with the machines she had at hand, which were designed to work with flat pieces of metal.
At first, Medraj wasn't sure he would be able to help. Then he spoke with former graduate student Haider Al-Kazzaz. “We decided to do a computer simulation of the process using the restrictions of the factory as our limits.”
After a number of unsuccessful trials, they developed a “scheme that would do
complex geometry on a simple machine.” They forwarded a detailed plan to Macklem
— and it worked. The sculpture was unveiled just over 18 months ago.
As she said, the project would not have been possible with the rather unlikely collaboration.
“[Mamoun] applied his expertise to solving complex problems by analyzing simple drawings of a sculpture maquette and translating my design into mathematical correlations. He calculated the precise angle, pressure and location of approximately 800 bends that were hydraulically and systematically applied to the stainless steel.
“His knowledgeable contribution meant that our vision, which we created on a small scale, was translated into a large, permanent form.”