Alumni Earn Patent

UW-Madison Master’s of Engineering Engine Systems graduates Aaron Foege, Derek Tanis and Joseph Roth created a patent for a variable valve timing arrangement through a subsidiary of Caterpillar Inc.

As part of an ongoing project in their master’s degree program, the students were prompted to design an engine from the ground-up. While working on the project, the three discovered there was no preexisting technology for an idea they hoped to utilize in their engine.

“We had a problem that we had to solve, so we came up with a novel idea to fix that,” Foege said.

After successfully completing the engine design, the graduate students decided to submit an application for a patent approval on Feb. 13, 2013 and the patent was published on March 3, 2015.

The variable valve timing arrangement integrates two parts of an engine; the camshaft and the crankshaft. The camshaft is a device that lifts engine valves open. The crankshaft spins around the connecting rods to make the pistons oscillate, and captures the energy from burning gases.

“We liked our idea to integrate them together but we couldn’t use any of the methods that were out there to vary the cam timing and the valve timing,” Foege said.

Foege, Tanis and Roth decided to design an engine for an economy car because subcompact cars have the potential to populate the automotive market, but are still selling at prices above average American affordability.

“One of the really important things in how an engine works, in how it operates, in how much performance of economy it has, is when the valves are open to let fresh air into the engine and to let exhaust out of the engine,” Foege said. “If I can change when those valves are opening while the engine is running, that gives me a great deal of power to really tune the engine.”

Foege said the master’s program was designed in a way that made it easier for his team to find a solution to their problem.

“Part of our course work was the physical layout of the engine, so where you put the crankshaft and where you put the camshaft, which made it so that we were able to decompose the problem,” Foege said. “If you can figure out the right way to look at the problem it makes it easier to solve.”


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