A ceremony was held Monday to celebrate completion of the new Nucor Industrial Control and Automation Laboratory in the Electrical Energy Resources Center. The state-of-the-art facility was made possible by a $255,000 gift from Nucor Corporation, the largest manufacturer of steel products in North America.
The laboratory is a collaborative effort of Electrical Engineering Technology in the School of Technology and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering. It is an example of cooperation within Michigan Tech’s new Alliance for Computing, Information and Automation (ACIA), which combines common interests among established academic units to better equip future graduates and to align research activities with contemporary technological challenges.
The laboratory consists of eight portable Amatrol Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) Learning Systems, equipped with Allen-Bradley CompactLogix 5300 PLCs and Human Machine Interface (HMI). These trainers enhance the teaching of PLC concepts and HMI programming using the latest generation of PLCs. The new technology also includes a fluid flow Process Control Learning System equipped with a Honeywell PID controller and four mechatronic stations fully integrated with a Fanuc Robotics System, enabling teaching of advanced concepts of PLC programming and overall system troubleshooting skills.
PLCs are an integral part of nearly all industrial processes today. A PLC is a digital computer used for the automation of a variety of electromechanical processes, including temperature ranges, immunity to electrical noise and resistance to vibration and impact. PLCs are often integrated with robotic technology.
“Graduates who will be employed in industries utilizing these systems must not only have basic knowledge of PLCs and robotics, but also the skills to integrate these systems,” said Jim Frendewey, dean of the School of Technology. “The knowledge and experience students receive will produce well-educated graduates with practical, hands-on experience designing, configuring and troubleshooting industrial control systems.”
Dan Fuhrmann, chair of electrical and computer engineering, said, “Knowledge and experience in control systems has been the single most sought-after skill set from our corporate recruiters looking to hire electrical engineering graduates, for the past several years. With the Nucor Laboratory we will take a major step forward in meeting the demands of industry and open up opportunities for our students.”
President Glenn Mroz emphasized the importance of the new lab as he spoke to those in attendance at the ceremony. “Michigan’s economy has gone from one of the worst to 16th for growth among the states in a very short time,” he said. ”We’re now in a renaissance in manufacturing, and the people graduating today have the knowledge and skills because of companies like Nucor who have made substantial investments in the education of Michigan Tech students. We realize that this represents a commitment both by Nucor and our faculty and staff that only comes about when people have a clear bead on priorities. We’re thankful to Nucor for helping our students have the best.”
Kurt Kalenauskas, an electrical engineering technology senior, said he is “jealous of the new students who get to learn and work with the equipment and technology the Nucor laboratory has to offer.”
Nucor has an established relationship with Michigan Tech that began in 2008, when the company sent two representatives to a Career Fair. They were so impressed that they asked Career Services how Nucor could help Michigan Tech help its students. Since then, the company has become a Career Services Gold Partner, providing financial support and sending several representatives to campus before each Career Fair to work directly with students on interview and resume preparation.
“Nucor recruits technical talent and future leaders at Michigan Tech because Tech graduates have proven to be successful Nucor teammates,” said Dave Davolt, electrical supervisor at the company. “Nucor’s relationship and involvement with Michigan Tech has grown stronger over the years. This is evident with Nucor’s investment in technology relevant to today’s manufacturing industry. With these investments and partnerships, Nucor hopes to better equip students for postgraduation opportunities, which we hope they seek with Nucor. “
Aleksandr Sergeyev, an associate professor in the School of Technology with a special interest in robotics, will head the new laboratory, with faculty from both Electrical Engineering Technology and Electrical and Computer Engineering teaching there. Hundreds of students each year will participate in laboratory activities, and those numbers are expected to grow with future development of new advanced courses made possible by the capabilities of the lab.