ebm-papst Inc. and the Connecticut Science Center take sailing to a new level with re-vamped learning experience

Retrofitted Sailboat Air Track exhibit uses company’s advanced fan arrays; lighting and construction upgrades increase the ‘wow’ factor for young visitors.

Farmington and Hartford Conn., April 2014 – “Hoist the Mainsail. Raise the spinnaker. Let out the jib. As captain of your own ‘Air Boat,’ you can try out all kinds of sail positions and shapes to see which gets you to the end of track before any other competitor. Fair winds be yours, Matey.”

While it’s not exactly “riding the rails” on an America’s Cup catamaran, the Connecticut Science Center’s Sailboat Air Track exhibit is challenging future and current wind warriors to adapt to changing weather conditions. The hands-on Sailboat Air Track exhibit is located in the popular Forces in Motion gallery, which includes a variety of interactive activities that allow visitors to investigate motion-related phenomena while testing their skills against those of other visitors. In addition to the Sailboat Air Track, guests can explore the world of extreme engineering and the physics of motion by levitating cars, test piloting helicopter designs, racing against gravity, and freezing time.

The original version of the exhibit, launched in June 2009, wasn’t as fast and exciting as it could be, according to Exhibit Specialist Ingimar Bjarnason.

“There were craftsmanship and engineering issues,” Bjarnason said. The fans used to generate the exhibit’s wind were seated too low to hit the sails on the model-sized boats, which move on linear tracks. “If one fan went bad, we had to take the entire fan assembly apart to replace it,” he added.

Happily, Sailboat Air Track now has its “second wind,” thanks to ebm-papst Inc., a global company of ventilation and motor system innovators with its U.S. headquarters in Farmington, Conn. A strong supporter of science, math, technology and engineering (STEM) education and career development, ebm-papst was an early supporter of the Science Center and donated one of the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) robots it sponsors for Nonnewaug High School’s robotics team to the Science Center in 2009.

After testing the sailboats within Sailboat Air Track during a visit to the Connecticut Science Center last year, ebm-papst Inc. President and CEO Bob Sobolewski volunteered his engineering team, donating the company’s time, materials and expertise to upgrade the exhibit.

The ebm-papst team — including VP of Engineering Scott Beauchemin, Electrical Engineering Manager Hogan Eng, Design Engineer John DeMarco, Manufacturing Engineering Technician Scott Crossman and Lehigh University Student/Applications Engineering Intern Alley Anderson — began by assessing the exhibit’s dimensions, drawings and materials.

Early in 2013, the team developed a retrofit design that would not only replace the fans but amp up the exhibit’s look and feel with LED lighting and modern materials. Then, they fabricated and reviewed prototypes with the Science Center. The team programmed software for the lighting, obtained materials and manufactured the metal components at ebm-papst’s production facility in Farmington.

To improve the sailboats’ performance and make the exhibit interaction more dynamic, the team selected one of the company’s small fans, the 115 VAC ACi4410HH Electronically Commutated (EC) Axial Fan. At a diminutive 119 x 119 x 38 millimeters in size, the fan runs at 3,350 revolutions per minute.

The retrofitted exhibit uses a total of 140 fans, 35 fans on each of the four sailboat tracks. To simplify maintenance, the ebm-papst team built and installed each track in easy-to-remove five-fan modules. The fans are lined up side by side and tilted on an angle to generate wind. The team also manufactured fan bases to allow for variable height adjustments that can be used to determine different effects on the boat sails.

“Our goal was to develop lighting for the exhibit that would be in harmony with its design,” said Electrical Engineering Manger Hogan Eng. “We programmed lighting on the LED strips so they would appear to be waves breaking on a beach, moving back and forth with whitecaps and slowly dimming as the water moves away from the shore. To open up the exhibit’s look, we removed the Masonite dividers between each track and replaced them with a water-blue Plexiglas panel sandblasted with the Connecticut Science Center logo. In combination, the LED lighting and Plexiglas panel make the exhibit visually exciting and modern.”

Installation of the exhibit’s new components took place the second week in September during the Connecticut Science Center’s scheduled shut-down period for installation upgrades and cleaning. The ebm-papst team worked late evenings to install and test the new fan and lighting modules before the Science Center re-opened on September 14.

“ebm-papst excels at customizing fan, blower and drive systems for heating, cooling and ventilation applications across many industries, and our work on the exhibit retrofit followed many of the same processes we use in serving our commercial and OEM customers’ needs,” said Beauchemin. “Our team got a lot of satisfaction in improving Sailboat Air Track’s performance and updating its look and feel for the students who will learn from its fun lessons on wind dynamics.”

“The refreshed exhibit looks fantastic and is much more dynamic for our visitors,” said Matt Fleury, Connecticut Science Center President & CEO. “This project allows us to showcase the work of a local technology company while enhancing hands-on learning experiences at the Science Center. Our goal is to get kids excited about science and future careers in STEM fields,” said Fleury. “This shows kids the kind of cool projects that they can do as an engineer or designer. We are most grateful to ebm-papst for giving us not only its financial support but the considerable talent of its staff.”

Watch the video on YouTube!

WFSB-TV 3 Meteorologist Mark Dixon recently interviewed ebm-papst about our work on the Sailboat AirTrack exhibit. Check it out here on YouTube

About ebm-papst Inc.

ebm-papst is the world’s leading source for engineered air movement products, providing a “total solution” approach and extensive in-house resources.

With its U.S. headquarters in Farmington, Conn. and offices in major cities throughout North America, the company’s highly-skilled and experienced team of professionals solve heating, cooling and ventilation challenges for industries and applications including ventilation and air conditioning, refrigeration, gas and heating, household appliances, IT and telecom, industrial and transportation, and more.

The ebm-papst way of doing business offers models for sustainability, efficiency, product innovation, skill development and community involvement. The company’s GreenTech philosophy drives economic and ecological improvement in every product they develop. For more information, contact sales@us.ebmpapst.com or call 860.674.1515.

About the Connecticut Science Center

The LEED-Gold certified Connecticut Science Center, located in downtown Hartford, sparks creative imagination and an appreciation for science by immersing visitors in fun and educational hands-on, minds-on interactive experiences while maintaining an environmentally conscious presence. Serving more than 1,300,000 people since opening in 2009, the Science Center features 165 hands-on exhibits in 10 galleries and a range of topics, including space and earth sciences, physical sciences, biology, the Connecticut River watershed, alternative energy sources, Connecticut inventors and innovations, a children’s gallery, and much more. Other features include four educational labs, a 200-seat 3D digital theater, function room, gift store and café, and ongoing events for all ages. The Science Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing science education throughout the state of Connecticut and New England, providing learning opportunities for students and adults of all ages, and engaging the community in scientific exploration. The Connecticut Science Center is also home to the Joyce D. and Andrew J. Mandell Academy for Teachers, providing powerful professional development for educators. More information: www.CTScienceCenter.org or 860.SCIENCE.