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University, Industry Launches Mechatronics Degree Program

University, Industry Launches Mechatronics Degree Program

Purdue University Calumet has teamed with eight corporate sponsors to create the country's first bachelor's degree program in mechatronic engineering technology.

The new program, which will focus heavily on packaging technology, will provide students with exposure to programmable logic controllers (PLCs), conveyor systems, machine vision and servo motors, as well as other technologies and various industry standards.

"Most small manufacturing companies - particularly packaging machine companies - need people who have expertise in mechanical and electronics technology," says Masoud Fathizadeh, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering technology at the school. "But rather than hire two individuals, they would like to have someone who has competency in both areas because that's what they need for machine development."

Purdue Calumet hopes to meet the needs of such companies by exposing students to both disciplines through coursework and through its new mechatronics laboratory, which has been outfitted by at least eight companies and one industry organization. Sponsors include Mitsubishi Electric Automation Inc., Morrison Container Handling Solutions, Dorner Manufacturing Corp., Elau Corp., Schneider Electric, Shuttleworth, Inc., Triangle Package Machinery Co. and the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute.

Corporate sponsors say they believe the new degree program will create a breed of graduates with more practical engineering knowledge. "They will come out with an understanding of production, manufacturing, and development of control schemes," says Imran Ishaq, senior manager for technical support centers at Mitsubishi Electric Automation, Inc.

In contrast, Ishaq says, conventional engineering has lacked the specificity needed for mechatronics design. "A traditional engineering education teaches students how to program, but not how to apply it to the dynamics of a machine," he says. "This program teaches them how to handle current technologies."

Purdue Calumet says it has worked with sponsors to secure as many as 70 corporate internships for the program's students. The university has also received a $150,000 National Science Foundation grant to help enhance its efforts in mechatronics engineering technology.

Purdue Calumet professors say they founded the program after being urged to do so by the industry. For the past six months, industrial partners have been helping to set up the university's mechatronics lab by donating conveyors, motion controllers, human-machine interfaces, servo modules, data acquisition systems, box labeling machinery, selective inverting machinery and high-speed cameras, among other technologies.

"This will help make these students more attractive to employers because they have the knowledge and because they can use that knowledge right away," Fathizadeh says.

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