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College of Engineering, Omron join to celebrate opening of robotics, mechatronics laboratory

April 26, 2013
Promod Vohra, dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, celebrates with Nigel Blakeway, Omron CEO and president of the Omron Foundation.

Promod Vohra, dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, celebrates the grand opening with Nigel Blakeway, Omron CEO and president of the Omron Foundation.

More than 15 years ago, the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology partnered with Omron to provide internships to NIU students.

In working with NIU students and faculty, Omron became fond of CEET’s curriculum, seeing that it had laid a great theoretical platform for students entering the workforce. Later, Omron donated safety and automation equipment to help further the education of the students in CEET’s technology program.

With a solid robotic foundation, Omron identified the need for a working space that brings together students from multidisciplinary areas.

On April 19, the college celebrated the grand opening of the Omron Robotics and Mechatronics Laboratory: The Omron Foundation provided $150,000 to fund the new lab, as well as $50,000 worth of equipment.

The Omron lab offers a place to learn and to explore robotics and mechatronics freely.

“The lab is designed to be an open space for all CEET and computer science students to come and learn about robotics outside of the classroom,” said Addison Merchut, graduate student of Mechanical Engineering, “for the sake of their own curiosity.”

Students will find four teaching lab stations, two advanced robotics research stations, three large breakout research platforms, wireless Internet and a cutting-edge projection system.

Seventy people, including CEET students, faculty and staff, came to the grand opening. Several representatives of Omron and other corporate partners also attended.

Omron logoSpeakers at the event included CEET Dean Promod Vohra; Nigel Blakeway, Omron CEO and president of the Omron Foundation; NIU President John Peters; NIU Provost Ray Alden; Omron COO Gregg Holst; and Peter McEany, manager of Technical Training and Support.

“On behalf of the Omron Foundation, we are delighted to have this chance to work with NIU CEET on this project,” Blakeway said. “We very much hope that the Omron Robotics and Mechatronics Laboratory will be at the pinnacle of developing a new generation of engineering talent for the Midwest. We are truly grateful for our partnership with NIU CEET in this respect.”

To show their gratitude to Omron for funding the new lab, CEET students, faculty, and staff created a video highlighting the benefits of the lab and thanking them for the opportunities that they have been given as a result.

The video features testimony from many students, as well as from Vohra, who said, “I think corporate partnerships are an important part of what we do because it brings real life issues into the classroom. It also provides internships, experience, and learning opportunities to our students. Omron was one of the first companies that partnered with us.”

Seniors Pettee Guerrero and Nick Skuban also appeared in the video, raving about the experiences that the lab provides them.

Guerrero, president of the NIU chapter of Society of Women Engineers, found the connection between Omron’s support and extending STEM concepts to young girls. “I get to empower young students to pursue a career in engineering,” she said. “When I give tours and they enter the lab, they say, ‘Wow, what is all of this?’ And I tell them, ‘You can do this. You can control and build these things.’ ”

Pettee Guerrero

Pettee Guerrero

At the grand opening, students demonstrated their current research completed in the new lab. Demonstrations included Skuban’s automated brewing system (a Senior Design Project), individual research and class assignments. Members of NIU Robotics also demonstrated projects that their student organization used the lab for over the past semester.

“They can teach you as much theory as they want in classes, but really getting your hands dirty and actually being able to apply the knowledge you gained from your classes, that’s where it really comes in,” Skuban said. “We really needed the lab, and I am just glad that I can use the equipment.”

President Peters spoke about the importance of corporate partners to CEET, emphasizing that the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) industries are the future. He also stated that investing in a STEM curriculum is a major initiative in higher education as the United States battles not only a slumping domestic economy but global competition as well.

Mechatronics is cutting-edge for the engineering and technology industries, as it brings together computer programing that drives electrical systems and controls mechanical devices.

“Whether we are talking about in the machining plant in our home town or even developing nations, automated systems will be key in connecting the world and jobs,” Merchut said. “However, because mechatronics is such an integrated and in-depth intersection between all of the engineering and computational fields, our engineers must have a diverse understanding of not just their sole area of study, but experience and knowledge in other disciplines as well.”

Cutting the ribbon!