HOUGHTON — Charlotte, N.C.-based Nucor Corp., the largest manufacturer of steel products in North America, has given Michigan Technological University $255,000 to establish the Nucor Industrial Control and Automation Laboratory at Michigan Tech.
The lab is a collaborative effort of the program in Electrical Engineering Technology in the School of Technology and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering. It will be located in the Electrical Energy Resources Center.
Industrial control and automation is a system of computer hardware and software used to monitor and control the operation of industrial processes ranging from small manufacturing facilities to large steel or paper mills. Industrial control and automation systems include programmable logic controllers, supervisory control and data acquisition, distributed control systems and robotics.
Programmable logic controllers 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 Michigan Tech’s School of Technology.
The new funding from Nucor will enable Tech to update its PLC lab with state-of-the-art equipment, providing students with the best training possible.
“The knowledge and experience students receive will produce well-educated graduates with practical, hands-on experience designing, configuring and troubleshooting industrial control systems,” Frendewey said. “That will be an obvious benefit to the employers of these graduates.”
Nucor’s relationship with Michigan Tech began in 2008, when the company sent two representatives to a career fair. They were so impressed that they asked MIchigan Tech Career Services how Nucor could help the university 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.
Now Nucor wants to strengthen that relationship to help prepare engineers and technologists who have the knowledge and skills that industry needs.
“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,” said Dan Fuhrmann, chair of electrical and computer engineering.
“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 post-graduation opportunities, opportunities 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.