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Resurrecting the Electrolytic Plotting Tank

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Mechanical Engineering Technology Curriculum Innovations.

Tagged Division

Engineering Technology

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1249.1 - 22.1249.10



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Paper Authors


Robert Edwards Pennsylvania State University, Erie

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Robert Edwards is currently a Lecturer in Engineering at The Pennsylvania State Erie, The Behrend Colloge where he teaches Statics, Dynamics, and Fluid and Thermal Science courses. He earned a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology and an M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from Gannon University.

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Tim Demetrio


David H Johnson Pennsylvania State University, Erie

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Mr. David Johnson is the program chair for Mechanical Engineering Technology and is an associate professor. Mr. Johnson received both the B.S. and M.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1978 and 1980 respectively from the Pennsylvania State University. He began his teaching career at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College in 1992. He teaches, does research, and advises student projects related to the applications of finite element analysis (FEA) to the solutions of difficult engineering problems.

Mr. Johnson had 11 years of industry experience before he began his teaching career. He began his engineering career at Boeing Aerospace Company then was employer by Airco Carbon, and Swanson Analysis Systems Inc. Mr. Johnson is a member of the Western PA ANSYS User’s Group, the Society for Experimental Mechanics, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

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Resurrecting the Electrolytic Plotting TankAbstract:Before the advent of CFD software, electrolytic plotting tanks were used extensively toplot three-dimensional heat transfer and fluid flow fields. The theory behind these tanksis the well know electrical analogy between electrical fields and temperature or flowfields based on the Laplace equation. These tanks have been essentially replaced withmodern computational methods.As part of a student project, a set of small plotting tanks were designed and built to use asa heat transfer lab on two-dimensional conduction. These particular tanks have beendesigned to simulate a variety of boundary conditions. Readily available saline solutionis used as the electrolyte. In order to simplify the plotting, and to reduce the over cost amodified common pencil is used as the probe, and the plot is made directly on a sheet ofpaper at the bottom of the container. Boundary conditions are simulated using up to 5volts DC.This paper describes the development of these devices and the test results. Results havebeen compared to finite difference plots and to ANSYS plots to verify that the tanks areworking as intended, and these results are included in the paper. The simple tanks yieldresults very close to the analytical methods. Also included in the paper is a brief historyof electrolytic plotting tanks, the relevant theory and a description of a potential labexercise using these tanks.

Edwards, R., & Demetrio, T., & Johnson, D. H. (2011, June), Resurrecting the Electrolytic Plotting Tank Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18651

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