One-on-one with Mohammad Arqam
PhD student working at SuperCool Asia Pacific
Determination, hard work and perseverance led Mohammad Arqam to pursue a career in Mechanical Engineering. He is currently undertaking his PHD in at Griffith University.
Q: What is your background, and what led you to take up a PhD position for this project?
Since I was a little boy, I have been interested in mathematics and sciences. After high school, I opted to study physics and mathematics at an intermediate level where I was introduced to the world of mechanics and calculus. Fascinated by both subjects, and interested in solving complex issues, I chose to seek a research career in Mechanical Engineering.
My undergraduate degree has helped me to build a solid foundation in Mechanical Engineering. Thermal and fluid sciences inspired me the most, particularly fluid mechanics, as it combines theory and practice, demanding you to visualise the situation, apply theoretical concepts to find the right solution. The creativity of the subject and its varied application areas, led me to pick ‘Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD)’ as a core subject in my final year.
To further advance my knowledge and skills, I decided to enrol in a Master’s Program in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Technology, Malaysia (UTM). After exploring the diverse aspects of Mechanical Engineering, I was looking to undertake a doctorate in one of the following areas: computational and experimental heat transfer, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and renewable energy systems. When I learned about SuperCool and that their IMCRC project revolves around the areas I’m passionate about, I applied for the PhD fellow position.
Q: Tell me a bit about the project, and what is your role in it?
SuperCool Asia Pacific specialises in manufacturing a wide range of compact compressors for mobile refrigeration and air conditioning on heavy vehicles. With the market shifting towards electric vehicles, SuperCool embarked on a two- and half-year research project to develop a new electric compressor that is ideal for applications where electricity is the primary source of power – such as in automotive, rail, mining and other industrial applications.
The project “Develop and manufacture of a smart electric compressor for refrigeration and air conditioning on heavy electric vehicles” is, as the title indicates, primarily concerned with developing a compact, high performance swash-plate electric compressor for use in heavy electric vehicles. The objective is to build a small electric drive (E-Drive) that ensures piston alignment and compression is unaffected by heat distortion. This is challenging as the small size creates problems for heat removal.
My PhD focuses on the development of an innovative compact cooling system which takes the thermodynamics of the refrigeration circuit into account to save energy through an independent motor cooling system. To date, a new cooling jacket (fins) design has been proposed which is currently tested using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and solid modelling. One of the unique features of the E-Drive is that it is linked via a separate refrigerant circuit to the motor. This should ensure better performance and easier maintenance than a conventional electric compressor. As electric swash-plate compressors are new, currently no comprehensive computational models exist. I hope to change that through my PhD.
Q: What do you like most about the research and your PhD?
I like solving problems and so far the project has raised some challenges. For example, while doing computational modelling of the cooling jacket, the fin geometry and airflow needed to be investigated carefully. Both elements determine the temperature of the motor as they influence how much heat is dissipated to the surrounding environment. During the design stage, the mathematical model is vital for estimating the motor temperature to prevent it from overheating. Using CFD modelling, different air velocities and fin geometries were tested and analysed to get the best possible and most efficient cooling jacket design, ensuring adequate air flow through the fins. For me, learning about different CFD tools and techniques was challenging but exciting at the same time. I believe the knowledge and skills will be useful in future research. Also, working on cutting edge technology and discussing problems with the company experts is very rewarding.
Q: Did you pick this project because of your interest in certain fields?
Yes, my expertise is in fluid mechanics and experimental heat transfer, which are two areas central to the project. Also, after finishing my Bachelor degree, I started my Masters of Mechanical Engineering straight away, and when I completed that I moved to Australia. Thus, I didn’t get the chance to work in a corporate / industry environment before. Having the opportunity to gain on the job experience on an industry project, inspired me to join this project.
Q: How do you feel about an industry-led research project?
An industry-led research project allows you to work with state-of-the-art technology in a company environment, offering you the opportunity to apply the theoretical concepts you learned as under / post-graduate in different ways. Often, you need to think outside the box to find the right solution. Personally, I think, industry-led research blends theoretical and practical aspects of technology R&D perfectly, which is often not possible in a scientific setting. My father, a professor of geology, taught me that there are two kinds of PhDs: scientific and industrial. In his view, industrial research was the way to go as it allows you work with current technologies and solve problems that are existing in the current market.
Q: What do you see yourself doing after completing the PhD?
Businesses and research organisations, particular in Australia, are looking for experts to develop strategies and the next generation of cooling technologies. My short-term objective is to work in a sophisticated and technologically advanced industrial research environment where I can apply and advance my academic skills and education. In the long term I would like to explore different fields of research and development, giving back to the community and coming generations by sharing my academic and research experience with them. After completing my PhD at Griffith University, I plan to pursue new scientific and industrial Mechanical Engineering projects that can advance existing technologies for the future.