Fill the skills gap: Chico State students learn with donated power panels

California State University (CSU), Chico, used donated automation equipment from B&R Industrial Automation for hands-on, practical learning to better prepare students for real-life employment related to mechanical engineering program and industrial automation.


Chico, CA – California State University (CSU), Chico, one of the oldest post-secondary institutions in California offers hands-on, practical learning to better prepare students for real-life employment. CSUC welcomes about 80 students each year to its Mechanical Engineering program. As part of the practicaltraining, students work on projects with industrial hardware donated by B&R Industrial Automation .

Testing and sorting machine at CSU is controlled by a B&R Power Panel,

Machine at CSU tests C-cells and D-cell batteries and sorts them into good and bad bins, controlled by a B&R Power Panel (PP35).

Automated screw driving machine at CSE engineering lab is controlled by a B&R Power Panel.

Automated screw driving machine put a custom machined faceplate onto a lighted receiver hitch at CSU; it's controlled by a B&R Power Panel (PP35).

Last year Nick Repanich, adjunct research professor at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronic Engineering, & Manufacturing Technology at CSU wanted to have one programming environment to control many devices, and the ability to choose a programming language for various class levels, including ladder logic. “Before we had all this actual industrial hardware from B&R, like controllers, pneumatics, steppers, we had a design project that used various items, like straws, mousetraps, doweling, hot glue, paperclips etc. to solve some problems,” said Repanich.
Each semester students build different machines with automated solutions. In each project they use the B&R Power Panel (PP35), designed as a controller and operator panel, as the main controller. Peripheral devices can be connected via standard integrated B&R CAN interface. Students control pneumatic actuators, read sensors, control stepper motors, and in one project read analog voltage of a battery to determine its condition. “We are now able to teach critical technologies that all engineers should know,” said Repanich.
“What we really like about CSUC is their focused practical teaching with real projects,” said Robert Muehlfellner, B&R director automation technology. “B&R is working with lots of universities and we want to make sure that students learn on the latest hardware to be qualified for their future jobs. A combination of theoretical and practical experience is very important.”
Setup is quick. Students can take hardware directly out of the box, wire it, and control simple input and outputs within two hours, with some help from the instructor, and only the help tools from B&R. Apart from the projects, students take the same ABET-required classes as any other university. Repanich added, “At the end of their Bachelor’s degree, our students are sought after as ready-to-work and actually do something due to the large number of student projects and the type of hands-on education they get here.”
Upgraded automation labs at universities are helping to fill the skills gap between projected engineering needs and students now in schools. See also:

Skills gap: Northern Illinois University partners with AutomationDirect for new lab

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