Northern Illinois University and Partners Grow Engineering Program

NFPA Workforce Development Programs are made possible in part by the generous support of industry volunteers as well as NFPA Education and Technology Foundation and Pascal Society donors. Support these efforts by making a donation.


One of NFPA’s strategic workforce development goals is to support the growth of fluid power education and connect educators and students to member companies. NFPA works to develop connections at schools across the country to highlight fluid power-related education programs that NFPA members can get directly involved with.

In Rockford, Illinois, Northern Illinois University (NIU) is partnering with Rock Valley College (RVC) to offer NIU Engineering at RVC, a community-based, industry-integrated program to train local students in mechanical engineering. Students take the first two years of courses from RVC faculty. Third and fourth-year courses are taught by NIU faculty on the RVC campus, and students earn an NIU Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. While they are taking courses, many students work in paid internships with local companies.

The goal for NIU Engineering at RVC is to build a strong base in fluid power education while also serving fluid power companies in Rockford (as well as throughout the state of Illinois) by supplying local companies with engineering talent. Companies can also support short and long-term R&D projects using the latest engineering technologies. Senior design students enrolled in the program are always eager to tackle fluid power hands-on projects. The collaboration between higher education and Rockford area industry partners is a win-win situation where students gain hands-on experience working on fluid power design and R&D while providing local companies with the engineering talent they need.

This past year, NIU students broke ground by having one senior design engineering team working on designing and controlling a system of four independent metering solenoid poppet proportional valves. The objective of this project was to create a robust real-time feedback control algorithm to automate a machine using systems of individual solenoid poppet proportional flow control valves. The team started by modeling the valve in Matlab/Simulink and prepared for building hardware, then testing. NIU works with local companies such as ALA/Yuken, Parker Hannifin, Danfoss, and Woodward. They provide help and support and hardware resources needed for the prototyping and testing.

Yuken valve modeled as closely as possible in Simulink and then inserted into a simulated hydraulic environment.

Simulink simulation results.

This year, NIU students are participating in the NFPA Fluid Power Vehicle Challenge, where six senior design students will work on redesigning a traditional bicycle using hydraulics as the mode of power transmission. They are looking forward to working with local industrial partners on the Vehicle Challenge, inviting industry professionals into the classroom to speak about fluid power careers, and establish their Fluid Power Club on the RVC campus to help students learn about fluid power and get connected to local NFPA members.

If your company would like to get connected to students or faculty involved in NIU Engineering at RVC, please contact Dr. Ghazi Malkawi at gmalkawi@niu.edu.

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