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College and industrial partner make investments to advance smart manufacturing

Three men stand amid boxes of computer equipment.

Luke Manier (center), a 2001 graduate from the MU Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, facilitated the donation of equipment for 15 modern industrial automation workstations, including components to aid in the construction of two advanced motion control systems, from his company, Rockwell Automation. Manier is joined in the photo by EECS Professor Emeritus Bob McLaren (left) and Interim Chair Kannappan Palaniappan. Photo by Amy Parris.

The MU College of Engineering needed cutting-edge programmable logic training workstations for its students to educate future leaders in the field of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) based on smart connected devices and associated data streams for smart manufacturing automation and control. A Mizzou-educated engineering leader and his company were all too happy to help.

Luke Manier, a 2001 graduate from the MU Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, facilitated the donation of equipment for 15 modern industrial automation workstations, including components to aid in the construction of two advanced motion control systems, from his company, Rockwell Automation. Rockwell, where Manier works as an industry sales manager, is the world’s largest company solely dedicated to industrial automation and information with annual sales of $6 billion, employing 22,000 people in more than 80 countries.

“Students that we’ve hired out of the Mizzou College of Engineering are doing really, really well, and we saw a strategic partnership opportunity with the investments the College is making and its automation courses,” Manier said. “It seemed like a really good time to work with Mizzou to try and modernize the Programmable Logic Controller system labs and to work together to support students by giving them the tools they need to succeed.”

This also benefits both the manufacturers and companies such as Rockwell, who stand to benefit from workforce enhancement creating a larger, better-equipped pool of graduates familiar with IIoT in the near future. And with the growth of the automation industry, well-educated engineers are a necessity.

“There’s this new Industrial Revolution happening globally. And what that forces manufacturers to do is rethink how they use technology, the tools they use, and they’re modernizing to become more competitive,” Manier said.

In this era of the Internet of Things and numerous smart devices, modern manufacturing is turning increasingly to automation in order to increase productivity and lower costs. These multi-faceted systems require various engineers from a wide array of backgrounds in order to maximize quality, efficiency and output. The devices need to be constructed, programmed, utilized for maximum efficiency and maintained, all aspects that require different engineering skill sets.

“The College of Engineering is doing some exciting work related to intelligent devices and big data analytics. Now, with a modernized automation lab and curriculum, students will be empowered to join the workforce ready to help manufacturers implement Smart Manufacturing concepts and gain a competitive advantage by achieving a Connected Enterprise,” Manier said.

“Automation is one of the rapidly growing technology sectors that can bring all those different disciplines together.”

And now, Mizzou Engineering students have the opportunity to work on the latest, top-of-the-line equipment as they prepare to lead the industry. The workstations will be located in an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department teaching lab facility in Naka Hall, where they’ll be put to use in a variety of different courses and also be available to faculty researchers. The first course to use the new equipment during the Fall 2017 semester will be ECE 4350/7350 Programmable Logic Controllers, which is being taught by Emeritus Professor Robert McLaren.

“Both students and faculty will be able to take tremendous advantage of the new Internet of Things (IoT) lab facility both for research and for teaching,” EECS Interim Chair Kannappan Palaniappan said.

“The same IoT devices can be used for several different courses showing the relationship between foundation courses and advanced courses ranging from computer architecture, embedded processors, and sensors to signals, information systems, data analytics and human machine interfaces. So students can say, ‘Cool, this is a really complex technology, and I’m learning pieces of it in all these different courses and this lab shows how they are interconnected and brought together.’”

And it’s precisely the ability to awaken those connections in students’ minds that most excites EECS Associate Professor Gui DeSouza about the new workstations. The idea is that the sooner students understand how different course materials and skill sets all tie together through the use and experimentation of these Rockwell training workstations, the sooner they’ll internalize engineering problem solving and develop a collaborative mindset crucial to success in today’s engineering.

“The idea is to break the physical boundary of course-specific labs and replace with multiple labs that serve multiple courses at the same time. If we break this boundary, their minds will also break any boundary that prevents them from seeing the connections between topics and courses,” he explained.