Ag Research Spotlight:
“No one knows what the limits of fluid power are – the technology is not as fully explored as it should be." –Andrea Vacca
The Ag Research Spotlight shines each month on an individual whose work reflects our commitment to the six strategic themes that guide Agricultural Research at Purdue. Our spotlight for July 2014 underscores the theme, “Strengthening ecological and environmental integrity in agricultural landscapes.”
Andrea Vacca had ample opportunity to learn about cars and motorcycles in his father’s body shop in their small Italian village. “I was always passionate about the operation of machines,” he says, which likely influenced his decision to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Parma. While he was completing a doctorate in Energy Systems at the University of Florence, he became an assistant professor in Fluid Machinery at the University of Parma. He hadn’t even thought about coming to the United States until he met Monika Ivantysynova, director of Purdue’s Maha Fluid Energy Center, at various international conferences. “Basically she mentioned, ‘We have a very nice program at Purdue—you should really consider it,’” he recalls. Vacca initially came to Purdue for four months in 2008 as a visiting researcher and joined the faculty in 2010.
Fluid power is a consolidated technology for transmitting mechanical power using fluids. It represents the “muscle” of many engineering solutions in varied industries that include agriculture, construction, transportation, aerospace, manufacturing and entertainment. However, “there is still a lot that can be done to improve this technology,” Vacca says. Specifically his research goals are to improve the energy efficiency and controllability of fluid power machines. He also is working on new solutions to reduce the noise emission levels of fluid power components. “Very often current machines have an overall energy efficiency as low as 20 percent, and they are too noisy,” he explains. “With quieter and more efficient components, this technology could be heavily applied even to applications such as passenger cars and biomedical devices.” Vacca recently began addressing the challenges of using water for high-pressure fluid power applications instead of the oil-based fluid currently used in at least 90 percent of cases. “If water could be used instead of expensive and dirty hydraulic fluids, problems related to leakages would disappear, and that would be a breakthrough especially in applications such as agriculture or the food industry,” he says.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE FIELD
Vacca is the author of more than 70 research-related papers. “Publishing is the first way of disseminating your ideas, to let people know what you’re doing so you can impact other research,” he explains. “We are not competing. We want to add to the research community, to reach everyone.” He is engaged with several fluid power companies that support his research and benefit from his novel ideas and from the simulation tools he develops at Purdue. He also is a faculty member of the Center for Compact and Efficient Fluid Power as well as an officer and editor for professional organizations supporting fluid power.