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Demonstration of an Automated Assembly Process for Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells Using Robotic Technology

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Mechanical Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.359.1 - 24.359.7



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Paper Authors


Vladimir Gurau P.E. Kent State University, Tuscarawas

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Dr. Gurau is a full-time tenure track Assistant Professor of Engineering Technology at Kent State University, Tuscarawas campus. Previously he worked for seven years as a Senior Research Associate in the Chemical Engineering Department at Case Western Reserve University where he served as Principal Investigator on several research programs funded by the State of Ohio’s Third Frontier Fuel Cells Program, by the U.S. Department of Energy or in collaboration with General Motors. In this quality he performed research on different fuel cell technologies, including numerical modeling and simulations (Computational Fluid Dynamics and systems optimization), experimental research design, fuel cell component characterization, fuel cell stack design etc. Dr. Gurau has more than two years experience in fuel cell industry with Energy Partners, l.c. (now Teledyne Energy Systems, Inc.) as a research specialist, where he modeled fuel cell phenomena in order to predict and optimize cell performance, including developing of analytical and numerical models (heat and mass transfer in multi-phase, multi-component flows with electro-chemical reactions, flows in porous media, etc). He is the author of several patents related to PEM fuel cells and the author of more than twenty publications in peer review journals or conference presentations in the fuel cells area. Dr. Gurau obtained his Ph.D. degree in 1998 from the Mechanical Engineering Department, University of Miami.

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Demonstration of an Automated Assembly Process for Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells Using Robotic Technology At the recommendation of the ABAT accreditation committee, a new capstone designproject class - Engineering Technology Project was introduced at our Engineering TechnologyDepartment in the spring semester of 2011. Students work in groups under direct facultysupervision on creative, challenging, open-ending projects proposed by the professor in the areaof renewable energy. Practical, hands-on experience is emphasized and analytical and designskills acquired in companion courses are integrated. These projects align with our state’s ThirdFrontier Fuel Cell Program commitment to accelerate the growth of fuel cell industry in thestate, to investigate manufacturing processes and technologies, to adapt or modify existingcomponents and systems that can reduce the cost of fuel cell systems, to address technical andcommercialization barriers and to demonstrate market readiness. Projects on which our studentsworked during the capstone design project class included the design and fabrication of a nine-cell, 50 cm2 active area proton exchange membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) stack, a first eversuccessful demonstration of an automated assembly process of a PEMFC stack using robotictechnology, design and fabrication of instrumentation for measuring physical properties for fuelcell components and the investigation of manufacturing processes for polymer/graphite-basedbipolar plates for PEMFCs. As identified by the U.S. Department of Energy, one of the obstacles that remain to beresolved on the road to hydrogen economy is the cost of manufacturing fuel cells. In today’s fuelcell industry the fuel cell stacks are assembled manually in a lengthy process involving arepetitive work cycle in which human errors are common. To our best knowledge thedemonstration of an automated assembly line for PEMFCs has not been achieved successfully inthe past. The reason is the difficulty to perfectly align the fuel cell components in the stack inorder to eliminate overboard reactant leaks as well as the variety of fuel cell components thatneed to be handled by robot arms. Additional obstacles are the general lack of compliance(flexibility) of the robot joints and the inherent limitations in a robot’s accuracy andrepeatability. These latter two factors reduce a robots capability to tolerate and compensate formisaligned parts. In our opinion, another major barrier in the way to successfully demonstrate inthe past the feasibility of automated assembly lines for fuel cells was related to an insufficientintegration of the fuel cell design process with the design of the automated assembly line. We present an innovative, inexpensive end-effector, the robot workcell and the fuel cellcomponents used to demonstrate successfully for the first time the automated assembly processof a PEMFC stack. The end-effector is capable of handling a variety of fuel cell componentsincluding membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs), bipolar plates and gaskets. The end-effectorand the fuel cell components are designed with features that allow an accurate componentalignment during the assembly process. All fuel cell stack components and the end-effector havebeen built in house and the automated assembly process has been demonstrated with limitedresources and available time by students during the capstone design project class offered in thespring semester of 2011.

Gurau, V. (2014, June), Demonstration of an Automated Assembly Process for Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells Using Robotic Technology Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20250

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