Wind tunnel at YSU to test new products

The project is the latest public/private economic-development partnership for YSU.

By Harold Gwin


HERE’S HOW IT WORKS: Martin Abraham, left, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at Youngstown State University, explains the use of a wind tunnel in testing wind deflectors for solar-panel installations to Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams. YSU is designing deflectors for Northern States Metals, which built the wind tunnel used in the testing. Streamers at the right show the direction and force of the wind during the test.


WIND TUNNEL TESTING: From left, Abraham; Ganesh Kudav, a YSU engineering professor; and Robert Voytilla, chief financial officer for Northern States Metals, discuss a wind tunnel at YSU used for testing the effectiveness of wind deflectors in the installation of rooftop solar-energy panels manufactured by Northern States. The company built the tunnel for YSU to use in the development of the deflector, a model of which is in the foreground.

YOUNGSTOWN — A partnership that brought a new wind tunnel to Youngstown State University is “another step in YSU’s evolution to an urban research university,” said the dean of YSU’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Martin Abraham was in the Fluids Lab of YSU’s Moser Hall on Wednesday for the unveiling of the wind tunnel built by Northern States Metals, a Youngstown-based metal-fabricating and alternative-energy firm, as part of a $77,000 research-grant package.

The grant includes high-tech sensing and measuring devices and new computer software.

The wind tunnel, capable of generating wind speeds up to 34 mph, is being used to test Northern States’ products, particularly the company’s Solar FlexRack, a system for mounting solar-energy panels.

Robert Voytilla, chief financial officer for Northern States, said the company was a contract manufacturer for other companies for 35 years before deciding to manufacture its own product in the solar-energy field.

The company chose to focus on solar-panel installation systems, sold its first Solar FlexRack units in June 2009 and now has them installed across the country, he said.

Now, it is expanding into rooftop panel installations, opting to focus on wind deflectors rather than added weight to keep the rooftop panels stable during high winds, Voytilla said. That’s where the wind tunnel and YSU’S mechanical-engineering department come in, he said.

The university has created a four-man team, led by Ganesh V. Kudav, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, and Yogendra Panta, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering, to work with Northern States on the design and testing of those deflectors.

They are assisted by Michael Yatsco of Poland, a YSU graduate student, and Mark Harvey of Youngstown, a junior mechanical engineering major.

Computer modeling is used to develop a design, and a one-quarter-size model of the product is built and tested in the wind tunnel.

This is the result of a public/private partnership, said Mayor Jay Williams, who was on hand for the wind-tunnel demonstration. It’s the latest in a recent series of economic-development announcements for the Mahoning Valley that will lead to the transformation of the region’s economics and quality of life, he predicted.

Abraham said the research will lead to the development of a new product that can be delivered across the nation.

“We’re working to create new opportunities,” he said.

“We have the technical know-how and expertise to do this kind of testing,” Kudav said. It will benefit the students’ learning experience and could be a source of department income, he said.

Once the Northern States project is done, YSU can use the wind tunnel to provide testing services for the products of other businesses, Kudav said.

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