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Mar 8, 201812:35 PMOpen Mic

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On the shoulders of giants: Innovation and the Wisconsin Idea the old-fashioned way

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More than a century ago, Wisconsin served as the birthplace for a series of blue chip industrial giants. The likes of Harley-Davidson and Johnson Controls, or engine makers like Fairbanks Morse and Briggs & Stratton, were the bold startups of the day.

We believe that living the Wisconsin Idea is about using our skills at the university as inventors and engineers, and in the trades as machinists, electricians, and other specialties, to revitalize this industrial heritage in a modern context. We believe that to achieve that it is a priority to teach our local children, and to encourage them to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Let’s work together to develop our students and fortify our companies because the whole world will benefit from the innovations coming out of the University of Wisconsin system of campuses, as well as our technical schools, with the greatest impact felt here in the state.

We share this love of manufacturing and faith in the capabilities of Wisconsin, even though we had very different pathways to this partnership.

Dan was born in, and raised near, Beloit, once home to a great manufacturer of papermaking machines. A core part of his identity was attending local fairs to see once state-of-the-art equipment of a century past and hear his grandparents reminisce about the Midwest at the peak of its industrial might. He dreamed of one day contributing his engineering skills for something productive that will be used by the citizenry of the state, and now that has become his life’s work.

Cecil, originally from Sri Lanka, was trained as a mechanical engineer in Russia and as an electrical engineer in Germany. He moved to the United States and eventually settled in Wisconsin because it was home to some of the world’s greatest makers of machine tools and other serious, industrial manufacturing products. Cecil and his wife Irina started Velicon in Milwaukee to make high-performance electric motors for testing and other special applications.

We are collaborating to develop and test ideas coming out of the electrical engineering department at UW–Madison, and our project together is a prime example of the Wisconsin Idea in action.

Electric motors are essentially made out of three things: steel, copper wire, and magnets. Magnets replaced the old way of making motors because the copper coils and other individual pieces had to be supplied with electricity and would wear out. We are trying to leverage old manufacturing techniques with a high-tech twist to get rid of the need for rare earth magnets that are almost entirely sourced from China and really bad for the environment. We aim to improve the design and performance of electric motors via techniques such as replacing the magnets and using wireless power transfer.

Working with existing companies is one pathway from university research to jobs in the community, and Velicon will now seek out more opportunities for such collaborations.


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