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students in Rockwell Lab
May 2, 2019

Hands-on learning in the Rockwell Automation lab

Written By: Sam Million-Weaver

Not many undergraduates have the chance to get their hands on top-of-the-line industrial control equipment. But in late-spring 2019, University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering juniors and seniors in the class Computer Control of Machines and Processes (ME 447) gathered for the first time in the Rockwell Automation Industrial Connected Enterprise Lab to put a suite of cutting-edge technology through its paces.

For the students, it was a one-of-a-kind chance (just the first of many) to learn by doing: applying the theoretical principles they’ve absorbed from a semester’s worth of classroom instruction toward real-world problems using real-world equipment.

It was also a first for the equipment in the lab, which was unveiled in October of 2018. Taught by Mechanical Engineering Faculty Associate Erick Oberstar, the students were the first group to work on problems in the facility as part of their coursework.

Housed on the first floor of UW-Madison’s Engineering Centers Building, the lab boasts a treasure trove of advanced controls systems—similar to the very latest technologies used in manufacturing facilities around the world.

“The wiring and circuitry are practically a work of art,” said Oberstar, as he encouraged students to take a peek behind their monitors.

After examining the inner workings of the control towers, it was off to the races. Clustered in small groups around glowing computer monitors, students went to work sketching out control schemes for their lab reports.

And though the students were the first to attend class in the Rockwell lab, they certainly won’t be the last. “This is a fantastic facility,” says Oberstar. “I look forward to using the lab in the future.”

And, in addition to Oberstar, several faculty members in the College of Engineering have plans to conduct courses in the lab in the coming years.

Check out images of students working on their projects in the slideshow below.