WPI Wire, Vol. 10, No. 1 - Spring 1996

The Faculty

WPI professors form bridges to Japanese industry, universities

Japan is 18 hours from New England by air and miles away culturally and economically from the United States but the distance and the diversity did not deter three WPI professors from traveling to that nation recently for several wee ks of work and study.

In January, Provost Diran Apelian, Howmet Professor of Engineering and director of WPI's Metal Processing Institute (MPI), joined five colleagues from American universities and industry on a 12-day, fact-finding mission that included visits to Japanese me tal-casting plants and meetings with government officials. Also taking part in the trip, which was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Academy of Engineering, were MIT Professor Merton Flemings, Den nis Bertram of Amcast Automotive, Wayne Hayden of Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Paul Mikkola of General Motors Powertrain Operations and Thomas Piwonka of the University of Alabama. On Feb. 27, the delegation presented its findings to selected members of Congress, policy makers and economists in Washington, D.C.


"I was most impressed with Japan's commitment to work force education," notes Apelian. "They have realized the benefits of a learning organization and are investing in their work force. This is something we need to pay attention to in the U.S."

Japan's metal casting industry lags behind that of the U.S. in adopting methodologies to increase productivity and reduce costs, says Apelian. It has been slower to adopt "just in time" scheduling to reduce inventories and to implement a team approach tha t brings together everyone connected to a project (designers, engineers, manufacturers and suppliers) to examine all aspects of a problem. "It is gratifying to observe how much progress we have made as a country in our manufacturing infrastructure and, in particular, in the metal casting industry.

Apelian says that there are other contrasts between the Japanese and American approach to metal casting. "Here in this country companies use computer modeling to predict and control processes. In Japan, the computer is mostly used to understand and analyz e processes without the feedback of closed-loop control."

"I was most impressed with Japan's commitment to work force education," notes Apelian. "They have realized the benefits of a learning organization and are investing in their work force. This is something we need to pay attention to in the U.S., and it is my hope that the Metal Processing Institute will play a role in the education of our work force."

Japan's annual growth rate is about 1.5 percent. The Japanese want to establish metal casting plants outside their country, such as in China and the U.S., explains Apelian. "But before they can successfully implement such a plan, research links must be fo rged between businesses and universities. Such industrial alliances are already in place at WPI and at other leading American colleges and universities. This may be a major challenge for the Japanese, who have traditionally preferred to establish in-house laboratories at corporations, rather than seek to affiliate with academic institutions. This isolation locks young people out of the pipeline and could have serious economic consequences for the future as the need for knowledgeable workers increases."

Apelian was impressed by the success the Japanese have achieved in the development of ceramics in metal casting and in particular for die casting. "This trip has given WPI a great deal of exposure. The delegation's findings and report have been distrib uted to industry leaders across the nation." Moreover, Apelian says he has made many alliances in Japan and WPI's Metal Processing Institute will benefit from these relationships.

"Our universities are among our national treasures," he says. "It is gratifying to see that the world recognizes our excellence in higher education. It was a pleasure being a spokesperson for WPI and for the premier industry-university consortium in metal processing - the MPI."

In late February, Barbara E. Wyslouzil, assistant professor of chemical engineering, began a three-week trip to Japan under a Fellowship Program for Foreign Researchers sponsored by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Th e purpose of the trip was to strengthen Wyslousil's current collaboration with Professor Kikuo Okuyama of the Chemical Engineering Department at Hiroshima University, and to meet other aerosol scientists in Japan working on a wide range of applications.


"I was impressed with the real interest the Japanese have in collaborating with scientists from other nations," Wyslouzil says. "There are a lot of opportunities and avenues available for both short- and longterm visits, especially to national laboratories, public corporations and nonprofit organizations. It was also interesting to find out that, in response to the recession, the Japanese go vernment has made a strong commitment to increase the level of funding for research universities rather than cut it."

"Dr. Okuyama and I are very interested in nucleation, the process by which new particles are formed, especially in complex multicomponent systems," says Wyslouzil. "In the atmosphere, for example, new particles are believed to form by binary nucleation be tween sulfuric acid and water. Many of the situations we are interested in produce ultrafine particles, and the available measurement techniques become a stumbling block to understanding the dynamics of the system. This trip also helped me introduce some of the techniques Dr. Okuyama has developed for ultrafine particle measurement into my lab at WPI."

Wyslouzil also traveled to the Tokyo area. In Tsukuba she presented a seminar at the National Mechanical Engineering Laboratory and visited the National Institute for Resources and Environment, the National Institute of Materials and Chemical Research and the National Research Laboratory of Metrology. Her visit to Tsukuba also coincided with a Photon Technology Workshop sponsored by the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI). In Wako City, she gave a talk at the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and discussed problems of nucleation in supersonic nozzles. She also took time to visit Chiba University to discuss the research she conducts with Pamela Weathers, WPI associ ate professor of biology and biotechnology, with researchers in the Faculty of Horticulture.

"I was impressed with the real interest the Japanese have in collaborating with scientists from other nations," Wyslouzil says. "There are a lot of opportunities and avenues available for both short- and longterm visits, especially to national laboratories, public corporations and nonprofit organizations. It was also interesting to find out that, in response to the recession, the Japanese go vernment has made a strong commitment to increase the level of funding for research universities rather than cut it."

In March, Mohammad Noori, professor and head of the Mechanical Engineering Department, began a one-month journey to Japan. Noori was one of 52 research scientists selected by the National Science Foundation and the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science to explore opportunities for research collaboration, exchange of scientists and graduate students, and research funding.

"I mainly represented the Stochastic Mechanics and Analysis Research Group (SMARG), which was formed at WPI three years ago as part of a joint research project sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR)," says Noori. SMARG, which initially included o nly professors in WPI's Mechanical Engineering and Mathematical Sciences departments, has been expanded to a regional research group composed of researchers from the Institute and from the University of Rhode Island, the University of Connecticut, Clarkso n University, the New York State Department of Transportation, Rutgers University, and affiliate members from d Rice University, the University of Virginia and the University of Ottawa.


"[This visit] provided an excellent opportunity for mechanical engineering at WPI to gain visibility among Japan's most eminent industrial and academic research communities and centers."

"We are a respected research group with expertise in the areas of stochastic mechanics, including modeling and random vibration of nonlinear systems, seismic isolation of secondary systems, earthquake engineering, offshore dynamics, bridge dynamics, hybri d control for seismic isolation, structural control and smart structures. My invitation to Japan is primarily due to the work of SMARG and its recognition by our Japanese counterparts."

During his trip, Noori visited the Kyoto Institute of Technology, home of the world's leading research group in the health monitoring of structural systems - a new area in civil infrastructure systems research; the Disaster Prevention Institute at Kyoto U niversity, one of Japan's top two earthquake engineering research facilities; the Kobori Research Complex in the Akasaka section of Tokyo, a leading research establishment in seismic engineering; the University of Tokyo's Civil Engineering Department, whi ch is active in structural control, nonlinear random vibrations and base isolation; Osaka University, which supports active control - and wind-engineering research facilities; and Tohoku University, where he met with representatives of the Shimizu Corpora tion, the second largest contruction technology industry and a leader in intelligent and passive control systems for seismic isolation and the application of Fuzzy Control in structural systems and seismic isolation.

Noori also spent time with representatives of the Kajima Corporation and the Kajima Industrial Research Institute in Chofu City. With multibillion-dollar research facilities and more than 100 research scientists, Kajima focuses on research and technology development in the area of active control of structural systems and has designed the world's first actively controlled structure with a "brain" and a "neural" system.

"This visit and this program reflect the international reputation that SMARG has accomplished as a center of excellence in Stochastic Mechanics Research, thanks to the scholarly work of our colleagues," says Noori. "It provided an excellent opportunity for mechanical engineering at WPI to gain visibility among Japan's most eminent industrial and acad emic research communities and centers. In the past, these centers and their researchers have been working with such American institutions as the University of California at Berkeley, MIT, Stanford, CalTech and Rice.

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