on May 13th, 2024

This article explores the various types of laboratories available at Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT), including virtual, remote, and physical labs. These facilities provide students with their applied learning, bridging the gap between theory and practice. At EIT, lecturers and instructors are dedicated to acquainting students with real-world challenges which the laboratory exercises ably deliver. 

EIT’s Lab Coordinator and on-campus Lecturer, Dr. Harisinh Parmar, explains how the labs contribute to students’ knowledge and application, effectively translating theory into practice. 

He shares extensive insights into EIT’s virtual and remote labs, while EIT’s on-Campus Lecturer and Work-Integrated Coordinator, Dr. Ana Evangelista, explores the workings of one of EIT’s civil and structural engineering physical labs. 

Before exploring the different labs, it is important to understand the difference between a virtual, remote and physical lab.  

Virtual laboratories typically simulate real-world experiments or processes entirely through software and computer models. Users interact with these simulations through a computer interface, conducting experiments virtually without the need for physical equipment. 

Remote laboratories, on the other hand, involve real equipment and experiments that are physically located in a laboratory. Users access and control these experiments remotely via the internet, using a computer interface to operate the equipment and observe the results in real-time via a web cam. 

A physical lab refers to a facility equipped with specialized equipment and resources for conducting hands-on experiments, tests, and research related to various engineering disciplines. These labs are typically equipped with machinery, instruments, prototypes, and materials relevant to specific fields such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, civil engineering, and others. 

In a physical engineering lab, students and researchers can engage in activities such as testing the strength of materials, designing and building prototypes, conducting experiments to analyze electrical circuits or mechanical systems, and performing various measurements and analysis. 

Virtual Laboratories: Simulated Experiment  

Electrical Isolation Simulation  

Dr. Parmar states that,” Electrical isolation simulation was developed in-house at EIT to train Rolls Royce’s employees worldwide on how to perform isolation procedures.”  

Initially, a step-by-step process model was crafted to execute the procedure within the virtual environment. Subsequently, utilizing software like Blender and Tinker card, various assets and models were generated.  

“These models were then integrated into the Unity Pro platform to construct the virtual gamified  environment for the onsite electrical isolation procedure. Users are prompted to select appropriate tools and determine subsequent steps based on the knowledge acquired during the course.” 

They can then follow the instructions to complete the process, with a task list generated at the end to facilitate accuracy checks. Users are afforded an opportunity to refine their process based on earlier feedback.  

The figure illustrates the step-by-step isolation procedure, with the task list box being ticked off as each step is completed by the user.  

virtual laboratories demonstration
Figure 1: Electrical isolation procedure using Unity Pro

CFD Simulation of Jet Apparatus 

This lab outlines the transformation of a traditional applied fluid mechanics laboratory experiment into a virtual laboratory, leveraging Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software.  

“This initiative aims to offer hands-on experience to engineering students studying online. In this experiment, the effect of surface shape (flat plate or curved) on water jet momentum and resulting reaction force is examined using a CFD model of the jet apparatus.” 

Dr. Parmar says the computed forces are then compared with those derived from the momentum equation. The figure below illustrates the traditional equipment (2-a) and the geometry generated (2-b) in the Ansys Workbench. 

The energy equation is applied between the nozzle exit point and the deflector surface. Two types of deflectors, flat (3-a) and hemispherical (3-b), are examined based on their respective shapes. Water striking the deflector alters the flow direction while maintaining flow velocity magnitude, he explains. 

The primary objective of the CFD simulation is to capture flow characteristics between the nozzle exit point and the deflector surface. Additionally, the simulation evaluates flow behavior post-water strike on different deflectors.  

A systematic pre-analysis approach is adopted to simplify the problem while ensuring result accuracy. The visualization of flow properties in computational fluid dynamics relies on the quality of the mesh utilized for resolution, says Dr. Parmar. 

Figure 2: Jet Apparatus (a) Traditional design (b) Geometry for the CFD simulation
Figure 3: Deflector surfaces for the jet apparatus (a) Flat shape (b) hemispherical shape
Figure 4: Remotely operated online laboratory
example (Remote labs)

3-Phase Generation and Distribution 

This lab focuses on power generation, transmission, and distribution, featuring a remotely operated laboratory designed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of these concepts and generator theory, explains Dr. Parmar.  

The setup showcases a 3-phase power generator and distribution lab equipped with a webcam and is connected to a Graphical User Interface (GUI).  

“The physical setup includes a brushless DC motor driving a three-phase generator at approximately 3000 rpm, producing around nine volts AC at 50Hz per phase. These three generator phases are delta-connected to the primary windings of three transformers, yielding about 200V at 50Hz at their secondaries. The secondary side of each transformer is interconnected to form the neutral of the three-phase distribution system.”  

Sensors measure the secondary phase-to-neutral voltages and individual phase and neutral currents, transmitting this data to the GUI for user display. The control system allows users to connect resistive (40W lamp) and/or inductive (fan) loads between each phase conductor and neutral. Additionally, the generated frequency is measured and displayed. 

To operate the laboratory, users initiate the motor by clicking the “Start” button on the GUI, activating AC voltage generation. A countdown timer, starting at 240 seconds, controls the motor operation, stopping it when reaching zero. Users can reset the counter at any time by clicking the “Start” button, ensuring automatic shutdown if the lab is disconnected unexpectedly, he elaborated. 

Students can select between inductive or resistive loads based on their laboratory tasks, and will learn concepts such as active and reactive power, power factor, and load effects on generation. 

This laboratory offers practical exercises for understanding AC and DC power transmission networks, allowing students to demonstrate knowledge in 3-phase power, transformers, different loads, and power flow.  

“Designed for remote control, it enables EIT students to learn about electricity transmission and distribution fundamentals at their convenience and in a safe environment.”  

Figure 5: 3-Phase generation and distribution lab setup

Remotely Operated Online Laboratories  

Automatic Flexible Production Line Trainer Kit 

This manufacturing control lab represents a typical industrial workflow process, like those found in manufacturing industries. This production line and all its stations are working with Siemens PLC which controls the ladder logic program using Siemens TIA portal.  

“We have converted this production line to the remote laboratory, so basically, it can be controlled and seen remotely in real time.” 

“The main aim of the remote lab is to offer online students hands-on experience in PLC programming. The Human Machine Interface (HMI) is developed in-house to offer remote users’ full control on the production line. With this HMI, our students can modify the ladder logic program and visualize the effect on the operation in real-time,” he says. 

Physical Laboratories 

Semi-Automatic Compression Testing Machine Lab 

A concrete testing machine, also known as a universal testing machine (UTM), is specifically designed to assess a material’s strength and deformation characteristics under a compressive load.  

Dr. Evangelista says, “With optional apparatus, it can also conduct flexural and tensile tests. Given that concrete is frequently subjected to compressive forces in real-world structures such as buildings, bridges, and dams, the Compression Testing Machine aids in determining if concrete can endure anticipated loads without failure.”   

One such example is the PCTE Australia’s specification – [UTC5729.FPR] 2000 kN Automatic Compression Testing Machine. PCTE Australia has provided comprehensive training and support to EIT staff and academics to ensure safe equipment usage, she explained. 

Dr. Evangelista explained how the Compression Testing Machine can contribute to the practical teaching of civil/structural engineering, including reliable material selection, improved structural design, quality control, research and development. 

Modern Compression Testing Machines are equipped with sophisticated data acquisition systems that record and store load-deformation data throughout tests, facilitating detailed material behavior analysis.  

Automatic controls streamline testing processes, allowing users to program desired loading rates and shut-off criteria for consistent and repeatable tests. This automation minimizes human error, ensuring reliable data collection. 

EIT’s virtual, remote and physical labs enhance the students’ understanding of engineering concepts and provides them with some practical experience. Through insightful conversations with experts like Dr. Harisinh Parmar and Dr. Ana Evangelista, we learned about the valuable contributions of these labs to student learning.  

Whether through virtual simulations, remote access to industrial processes, or hands-on experiments in physical labs, EIT’s laboratories play a crucial role in preparing students for real-world challenges in engineering. 

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