SIUE School of Engineering unveils new robotics lab, lobby

SIUE School of Engineering unveils new robotics lab, lobby

Thursday night was an unforgettable night for Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s School of Engineering (SOE).

The College of Engineering held a party to unveil the renovated Enterprise Holdings Foundation lobby in the engineering building adjacent to the new robotics lab.

The redesigned space is the product of a $1.5 million donation from the Enterprise Holdings Foundation.

“The Enterprise Holdings Foundation is one of our collaborating industry partners,” said Lisa Smith, director of development in the School of Engineering. “Their donation made it possible to update the lobby with the necessary power outlets so that people can be connected at all times.

“Now we have collaborative benches so our students can work together in teams and study together more effectively, and we have the new robotics labs. We have a relatively new mechatronics degree program and these people, as well as all the other engineering majors in the school, will be able to learn about Robots through the Enterprise Holdings Foundation gift.”

SIUE consultant James T. Minor is among the speakers at Thursday’s event.

“When you walk into this space, it’s exciting to imagine the innovative collaboration that’s happening,” said Minor, who became a consultant on March 1. “It is great for our students to know that they will have an experience at SIUE that rivals any top university in the country.

The Robotics Lab will prepare students to be leaders in the industry. The vast majority of SIUE graduates remain within a 50-mile radius after they graduate, and the idea that we will supply the workforce of the future is very attractive to our industry partners.”

A highlight of the event was the presentation of the LR Mate 200iD, a new cutting-edge, industry-standard robotic arm. The robot was donated to SIUE by the HJ Family of Companies, and on Thursday, it was picking up and moving the letter “I” in a set of “SIUE” ban letters.

“It is a machine that is used in industry and they have given it to us so that we can teach our students how to use it,” said Dr. Jagath Gunsaekera, Laboratory Director and Instructor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering “We also have a camera attached to the robot and take pictures of the workspace.” Depending on the location of the objects, the robot can Pick it up using the clutch.We bought another Fanuc ER-4iA robot to complement the donated robot.Then our student will be able to get hands-on experience with two industrial grade robots.

“We also have an experimental Delta robot. It is a faster robot but has limited movement. It can be used to sort small items like almonds. In industry, you have almonds on a conveyor belt and the robot can sort out light almonds for eating and dark almonds for milking.”

SIUE has also purchased 13 ViperX 300 robotic arms to teach students the basic levels of robotics programming. Many other robots have also been shown.

“I have been using this lab for the past month for our specialized mechanical and industrial engineering classes,” Gunsaekera said. “Tonight’s event is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the capabilities of this lab, and especially to our donors, to show them what we used their money for.”

Dr. Jim Caracal, Professor of Industrial Engineering and Dean of the College of Engineering, is very excited about the potential of the new facility.

“First of all, we are grateful to Enterprise Holdings for offering to support the College of Engineering,” said Caracal. “We had a major renovation, and we didn’t have a lot of spaces for our students to meet and collaborate on their projects.

“The question has always been where and when the space was available and now, they have these wonderful reconfigured spaces to have project discussions and share their ideas. The workspace has easily tripled, and it greatly enhances their experience.”

Caracal noted that the space now used for robotics labs was previously an underutilized computer lab.

“We did a major renovation, removed the roof and completely renovated the interior,” Caracal said. “It was all done so that our students could get hands-on experience with robotics. Tonight’s event is an opportunity to share what Enterprise has done for us and what we plan to do with the facility.”

Enterprise has been repeatedly recognized as one of the largest college recruiters in the United States – largely for hiring for the company’s popular management training program. Locally, Enterprise also employs its strong team of more than 2,000 IT professionals, who work to build technology solutions that redefine how customers buy, rent and share vehicles.

Enterprise Holdings has partnered with state-owned companies for several years to connect students and alumni with career opportunities in the IT department. And with SIUE’s stringent academic standards and robust approach to innovation, the partnership has created an ongoing talent pipeline to meet the changing demands of artistic talent.

The Enterprise Holdings Foundation was founded by Enterprise founder Jack Taylor in 1982 to provide the best for the communities in which partners and employees live and work. Since then, the Enterprise Holdings Foundation has contributed more than $592 million to thousands of local nonprofits focused on community improvement, education, and environmental stewardship. Commitments range from global philanthropic initiatives promoting social and racial justice to projects focused on critical conservation challenges.

Dr. Chris Gordon, Associate Dean of the College of Engineering, Caracal shares his enthusiasm for the new Robotics Lab and Atrium.

“We are delighted to have this moment to celebrate our strong partnership with Enterprise Holdings,” Gordon said. “This is an exceptional lab and a way to showcase our students’ creativity, efforts, and some of the technological advancements that occur every day in the College of Engineering.

“Our students are known for having great practical knowledge and ability, and this new robotics lab is another way we can make it happen. This is an opportunity for anyone who comes into the engineering building to see the magic that happens in our labs. The robotics lab is designed to open up to the community so you can see robots in action. The construction and the robots being used as you walk, which is very inspiring.”

Huan Van Van, a graduate student at SIUE, demonstrated an omnidirectional robot he designed and built. Tracking sensors or cameras are used to help program the robot and prevent it from colliding with other objects.

“It’s omnidirectional because it can move linearly and rotate at the same time,” Van Van said. “I can program it to move one meter without turning, and I can program it to go back one meter and rotate so it faces the other way.

“When I first made the robot, it was for research purposes only. But I continued to use it to teach students.”

Dr. Mingchao Zhang, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics, demonstrated a small, self-guided car that was running on a parameter course on the lab floor. The composites are part of the course project for Zhang’s MRE 320 class for engineering students.

“He’s figuring out the midfield and he’s going to stay on it,” Zhang said. The car has a camera and every time it takes new pictures and based on the photo it decides where to go next. This is how you train to follow the path.

“Not every robot is built perfect so you have to tune it to correct any issues. I plotted the course to be steep with lots of distractions. Students start it off at slower speeds but each student has their own robot and they will be able to race against each other using their own strategies and figure out how to adjust work best.”

Seth Walker, the university’s vice president for undergraduate advancement, said the new facility enhances SIUE’s reputation as a destination for engineering students.

“It helps advance our efforts on everything related to students and they have more resources they can use for the collaboration space and real-world experience in the robotics lab,” Walker said. “Students also learn about a great local company at Enterprise Holdings and have a great entry into getting work with them.

“It’s a brighter and more welcoming space for students to work together, and teamwork is an essential part of the college experience. This event is an opportunity to honor Enterprise for its generous gift. It was introduced to us two years ago, but due to coronavirus and everything else, it took a while to get all the aspects done and ready to cut the tape.

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