HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Northern Kentucky University, in partnership with Rockwell Automation and CBT Company, has unveiled a new lab designed to meet the needs of industry and give students hand-on learning in mechatronics engineering.
The Rockwell Automation & CBT Company Mechatronics Lab, housed in the Business Administrative Center, celebrated its official ribbon cutting on March 26. NKU created the mechatronics degree program in 2017 because of direct feedback from the industry.
“Ask any manufacturer what keeps them up at night, and they will tell you it is finding skilled workers,” said James Ahrens, CBT Company.
“Our partnership with Rockwell and CBT is part of the solution to address this workforce need,” said NKU President Ashish Vaidya. “The demand is there, and it’s only increasing. Automation and robotics are the future of industry, and we must ensure our graduates are ready on day one with the skills and competencies to fill this employment gap.”
Rockwell Automation is the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and information. CBT Company is the sole distributor of Rockwell products in the Cincinnati region. They work hand-in-hand to bring advanced manufacturing technology to clients.
“Our technical specialists work with Rockwell Automation to help our customers troubleshoot, implement, and upgrade automation solutions within their manufacturing facilities,” said Kellie Kruger, CBT Company marketing manager. “The biggest challenge our customers have today is finding skilled workers that understand the evolving technology utilized in their manufacturing processes. The integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) in manufacturing will require an even more advanced skill set in the future, and the individuals who understand automation and have the ability to improve processes to increase efficiencies will be in even higher demand.”
Fueled by success on a similar project at Kent State, Rockwell began to look for a university to partner with the Cincinnati region to address the issue here.
“There’s an urgent need for a diverse knowledge base that blends data analytics, computer programming, engineering and robotics. NKU created that with its mechatronics degree, but we started asking what we can do to get these students on the line before they even graduate. That’s how the lab came together,” said Michael Schutte, Rockwell Automation account manager. “The mechatronics lab allows students to learn on the integrated panels and machines that they will run in the real-world. They fill the skills gap while earning their degree.”
Alan Naylor, an NKU senior, is doing just that. Naylor, an Engineering Technology major, works part-time at the Schwan’s facility in Florence. He had to quickly learn the Rockwell technology on the line, and NKU’s mechatronics program gave him the foundation to do that.
“Thanks to what I’ve learned so far at NKU, I was better able to operate the technology and equipment I encounter at my job at Schwan’s,” said Naylor. “This mechatronics lab will give all the students in my program that same the hands-on learning, but it will be built in as part of the class. They won’t have to look to another source to get that experience like I did.”
The Mechatronics Lab provides a real industrial automation environment for students to assemble, program and operate integrated manufacturing systems. It prepares them for jobs in automation, control, instrumentation design and robotics areas.
“There’s fixed automation, like a standard conveyor belt transfer line, and flexible-automation, where you program materials handling devices, robots and machines to do different things. Our students will learn both and with this skill set, they will be able to learn and grow with the technologies of the future,” said Dr. Morteza Sadat-Hossieny, program director and professor of Mechatronics.
The new Mechatronics lab has ten workstations, each one with state-of the-art equipment and technology. It’s designed to train a highly skilled workforce to keep the region competitive.
“Companies like Amazon, FedEx and DHL are investing here to build hubs and distribution centers, and they will continue to expand. Engineers are needed to design and build the control systems for these centers, and technologists to run them,” said Schutte. “That’s why this is a partnership and not just a one-time investment. Technology will change. As it does, we will send toolkits and updates to keep the lab current with what we are putting on the lines. ”
The lab will also be used to support K-12 STEM education and recruit more students from the area community and technical colleges. For more information on the Mechatronics Degree, visit its website.