The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the university education, with most teaching moved off campus and students learning online or remote at home, but a cornerstone of undergraduate engineering education has been a big challenge, namely the laboratory classes. As the engineering and education communities continue to adapt to the realities of a global pandemic, it is important to recognize the importance of the laboratory-based courses. In order to address to this situation, an ambitious approach is taken to recreate the laboratory experience entirely online with the help of the digital twins of the fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and turbomachinery laboratory experiments.
Laboratory based undergraduate courses such as EFPLAB1, EFPLAB2 (Energy; Fluid and Process Laboratory 1 & 2) and EFPENG (Energy; Fluid and Process Engineering) are important parts of the “mechanical engineering” and “energy systems engineering” curricula of the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences (HSLU) in Switzerland. Each course mentioned above include six different laboratory experiments about fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, turbomachinery, energy efficiency, and energy systems, including mass- and energy flow balances in energy systems. During the Covid-19 pandemic, it was necessary to adapt to the new environment of remote learning courses and modify the laboratory experiments so that they can be carried out online. The approach was developing digital twins of each laboratory experiment with web applications and providing an environment together with supporting videos and interactive problems so that the laboratory experiments can be carried out remotely.
A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical system, e.g., the test rig. It may contain a collection of various digital models with related physical equations and solutions, information related to the operation of the test rig, including 2D or 3D models, process models, sensor data records, and documentation. Ideally, all quantities and attributes that could be measured or observed from the real experiment should be accessible from its digital twin. The digital twin not only reproduces the experimental setup in the laboratory but also helps to improve the knowledge related to the theory and concepts of the laboratory experiments. One major advantage of the digital twin is that the number and range of the parameters, which can be manipulated or varied, is larger in comparison to the actual testing in the laboratory. This paper explains the development of the digital twins (web applications) of the laboratory experiments and provides information about the selected experiments such as potential vortex, linear momentum equation, diffuser flow, radial compressor, fuel cell, and pump test rig with the measurement of pump characteristics.
A remote or distance learning has many hurdles, one of the largest being how to teach hands-on laboratory courses outside of an actual laboratory. The experience at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences showed that teaching online labs using the digital twins of the laboratory experiments can work and the students can take part in remote laboratories that meet the learning outcomes and objectives as well as engage in scientific inquiry from a distance.