Keeping IT on the cutting edge

Aug 4, 2005

Technology updates give Kettering students an edge in the job market and so they don't wind up "in some museum."

Dr. Petros Gheresus doesn't claim to be a historian. But he does know that without the latest technology available for student use in Kettering's Rockwell Automation Applied Control Systems Design Laboratory, he and his students could one day end up "in some museum."

This exaggeration has some basis of truth. In today's highly technologically advanced manufacturing environments, engineering students on the cusp of graduating from college require in-depth, practical experience with state-of-the-art technology used by industry. The reason is simple: companies need talented, skilled and highly educated engineers to make an immediate contribution once they are hired into an organization. But in a global marketplace where jobs are becoming scarcer, competition for these positions is more challenging than ever before.

Gheresus, a professor of Industrial Engineering and instructor of IME 412: Applied Systems Design at Kettering, clearly understands this situation. Through this course and associated work in the Rockwell Automation Applied Control Systems Design Laboratory, students receive important educational instruction and hands-on laboratory experiences in control systems design using modern hardware and software resources utilized by many small and large companies in their manufacturing, processing and engineering facilities today. In his course, Gheresus introduces students to Visual Basic programming for human machine interface (HMI), relay logic circuits wiring to solve various problems, and instructs students on how to write, debug and download several ladder logic programs to address real applications. For Gheresus and his Graduate Teaching Assistant Aravind Melatur, who hails from Chennai, India, offering this high caliber course that incorporates state-of-the-art hardware and software resources at the undergraduate level could mean the difference between securing a high and low paying position. With an initial contribution of hardware and software valued at more than $300,000 from Rockwell Automation, the lab opened in 2001. Over the past several years, companies have expressed a growing need to employ engineers with experience in applied control systems and the Rockwell lab provides students a unique opportunity to engage in writing and testing several controls programs that are applicable for industrial consumption.

"Before you build a manufacturing facility you can actually simulate the processes, visualize the flow and show how things are assembled," Gheresus said. "It enables engineers to change some elements to project values, collect data and interpret the results before the entire system is built giving one an idea how the system will work. Once the system is built, the control system is used to collect data that is then converted into information and disseminated to the appropriate locations."

With the new IT improvements, students find the work to be even more rewarding and challenging, because they are using resources that leading corporations rely on today. The laboratory enhancements include

  • Eleven new Toshiba lap top computers running Pentium IV, 3.0 GHZ processors;
  • Rockwell's RS Logix 500 and 5000 software for programming activities;
  • RSView32 software for HMI;
  • Visual Basic .NET for HMI; and
  • Rockwell's SLC 500 and Control Logix 5000 series PLCs.

According to Gheresus, these improvements provide greater flexibility in programming, increased speed and greater productivity. A number of students have worked on projects using the new resources. For example, during the spring 2005 term, students wrote and tested several programs that included simulation of a multi-stage operation car wash, two-way traffic controls, and data acquisition and processing. Senior Electrical Engineering major Landon Back of Greenville, S.C., feels the lab enhancements make the class work very important because they "replicate what's actually used at my co-op assignment," he said.

His project partner, senior Industrial Engineering major Chrystal Brylewski from Warren, Mich., agrees. "It's a new experience for me," she said. "It's nice to use other applications like this, because it expands your skill set." Students from any major are eligible to take IME 412: Applied Control Systems Design as a free elective, which allows them to write, debug and test various controls programs using state-of-the-art resources, thus providing them an edge in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

"This lab is critical for students to stay abreast of the latest industry trends," Gheresus said. "In an uncertain job market where jobs are being shipped overseas, engineers need to have multiple skill sets in order to retain current positions and move up the corporate ladder. This lab helps provide those skills to students majoring in a variety of engineering fields."

Written by Gary J. Erwin, with additional material courtesy of Dawn Hibbard
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