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Tech truck visits Niles Campus

Turbine Technologies’ Mobile Engineering and Technology Training Center’s “maiden voyage” brought the climate-controlled semi to Southwestern Michigan College’s Niles Campus Sept. 6. Faculty, including Robotics Professor Michael McGowan and Physics Professor Andrew Dohm, and students, toured the trailer, headed to Western Michigan University from Niles.

Turbine Technologies, from Chetek, Wis., designs and manufactures educational laboratory products that assist in developing critical-thinking skills.

Its first product entailed designing and manufacturing a small jet engine installed into a fully-instrumented test cabinet.

This portable, ready-to-operate, turbojet engine lab offered an affordable and simple solution compared to full-scale engine testing facilities.

Since then, Turbine Technologies carried this theme to other complex systems.

Its approach offers undergraduates real-world lab experiences that would otherwise be unavailable due to cost and complexity of full-scale devices.

Turbine Technologies’ systems operate in Australia and Asia and at hundreds of colleges, including the U.S. Naval Academy, Princeton University, Stanford University and The Ohio State University.

Founders Wolfgang Kutrieb and his wife, Marianne, immigrated to the United States from Germany.

Their entrepreneurial drive created the company 50 years ago, in 1967.

Since 1986, Turbine Technologies has been designing and manufacturing classroom devices that support educational objectives in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Disciplines include aerospace/aeronautical, chemical, civil, electrical, industrial, mechanical, petroleum, structural and renewable energy engineering, electromechanical technology, mechatronics, programmable automation and controls and mechanical engineering technology.

Twenty years into a second generation, Wolfgang and Marianne work with their three sons, Mike, Tom and Toby, at a 37,000-square-foot facility in Chetek, in northwestern Wisconsin’s Barron County.

Their turnkey products include a steam electric plant and a three-phase wind turbine generator.

“Two more are in development — a hydraulics trainer and a diesel engine lab,” said Allen Worthey, product applications specialist and mobile demonstrations lead.

“I’ve found you can’t imagine where you might end up, so the most important thing is to get as much exposure to as many things as you can,” Worthey said. “It gives you tools for problem-solving because in your job you might be tasked with random things.”

“One of our end goals in October,” Worthey said, “is to land at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. They’re going to use one of these in high-altitude, gas-turbine research they’re doing. Oklahoma State University’s chemistry department is using this to experiment with alternative fuels and fuel efficiency.”

The Mississippi native, whose wife is from Wisconsin, has family background in heating and air conditioning, but also studied music theory.

While studying electrical engineering, Worthey worked for Kohler industrial generators in Sheboygan.

“I’ve got a guy who just graduated and works for Eaton in South Bend. I’ve got new students who work at that plant because he showed them what his education did for him. They’re sending people to our program,” McGowan said.