Many researchers forge ahead with R&D into problems that are interesting but have no real-world application.  But perhaps the most compelling research ties solutions to existing problems.  Such is the case for Soobum Lee, Ph.D. an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County [UMBC].  Dr. Lee was interested in studying wasted energy from vibration and realized that every car since 2012 has a pressure sensor.  The battery life of these data collection sensors is quite limited and needs to be replaced rather frequently.  However, the utility of the pressure sensor is a new novelty for customers, and many do not see the value in spending replacement costs for something they didn’t need in the past.  “If there was no need to replace the battery,” Dr. Lee explained, “I could keep a good data collection tool operating that informs customers of tire pressure.”

Vibration from a tire, especially on rough roads, is quite intense and can be harsh with easy potential for failure.  So Dr. Lee had to look at robust energy harvesting techniques in metal parts that required precise dimensions with high tolerances.  In optimizing the design, Dr. Lee required very precise machining that he felt could only be made with laser machining.  Fortunately, Potomac’s headquarters, research and development, and digital fabrication production facilities are located in the [email protected] Research and Technology Park adjacent to the University campus.  Dr. Lee knew of his neighbor’s expertise in laser micromachining and tapped the company to make novel device.

The energy harvester is made of a Piezoelectic ceramic material that generates energy to be be stored for later use.  Not every laser light source wavelength can adequately interact with these high tech materials but Potomac has a wide range of lasers operating from the infrared to the ultraviolet.  We had the exact laser for the job and could cut the small rectangles with ease.  Says Dr. Lee, “Potomac did the perfect job cutting to the exact dimension my design needed.  I created my part in Solidworks and they were able to easily handle the CAD file and convert it to their machine internal language.  Of course, being local, I was able to work closely with them, but with email communication would still be easy.

Potomac’s expertise with a wide range of lasers allows us to choose the right wavelength for a specific material and quickly turnaround parts as we have the exact tool for the job.  Energy harvesting is a promising area and we always enjoy advancing technologies that can impact our environment.