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Rockwell Automation Industrial Connected Enterprise Laboratory unveiling
October 16, 2018

Automatic, and anything but ordinary: Partnership with Rockwell prepares engineers to excel

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

Thanks to a partnership with industrial automation giant Rockwell Automation, engineering students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison can get their hands on today’s most advanced industrial manufacturing technologies.

That’s one reason the Rockwell Automation Industrial Connected Enterprise Laboratory in the UW-Madison College of Engineering is such a valuable resource.

“We are doing things that aren’t traditionally done,” says Dan Thoma, director of the Grainger Institute for Engineering at UW-Madison, which oversees the lab. “And it’s helping our students build up a comfort zone and familiarity with state-of-the-art technology from Rockwell.” That familiarity will give Badger engineers an important leg up when they enter the job market. And, companies need highly-skilled workers.

“Rockwell has a mission to expand human potential,” says Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret, whose company has a long history of supporting initiatives in the college in both research and education. “Automating mundane tasks allows human workers to focus on challenging problems that need critical thinking.” Part of that mission to expand human potential includes inspiring and educating tomorrow’s workforce.

“As a state school, there are great opportunities at UW-Madison to enhance partnerships with industry,” says Thoma. “Rockwell wanted to make sure that its technology is a part of the educational mix.” The company did just that—filling a room on the main floor of the Engineering Centers Building on campus with a suite of Rockwell technology for students to put through the paces. The lab will support undergraduate coursework as well as faculty, staff and student research projects.

“Almost any engineering done today has some sort of data control system,” says Bruce Beihoff, the technical director of industrial and systems research in the Grainger Institute for Engineering. “There is a need for coursework that covers this convergence of industrial manufacturing and data systems.”

The new lab will support four courses on topics ranging from process control to data techniques to cyber security, with more classes slated for the future. “I’m gathering data from real factories right now to use in a course in the next few years,” says Sangkee Min, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and fellow in the Grainger Institute for Engineering. “The students will be able to use the lab to model what happens on real factory floors.”

And, the lab’s capabilities will continue to grow in the coming years. Plans are already in place to add new flexible automation systems and an industrial data center.

It’s a win-win situation. UW-Madison engineering students have the chance to gain real-world experience in a one-of-a-kind facility, while at the same time, Rockwell can ensure that future generations of engineers join the workforce with above-par technical skills.

“The lab is and will be a space that connects people with ideas and technology, serves as a springboard for innovative research and solutions, and adds an additional level of knowledge and preparation for our students,” says College of Engineering Dean Ian Robertson.