Flexible Manufacturing Lab will introduce students to automation

November 28, 2016

Emily Scott


A BenchMill 6000, a CNC machining center, in the Flexible Manufacturing Lab.
A BenchMill 6000, a CNC machining center, in the Flexible Manufacturing Lab.




A new ISE laboratory will be the first of its kind at the University of Illinois.

The Flexible Manufacturing Lab will be located in the Transportation Building and will accommodate students who are learning about manufacturing automation.

Equipped with programmable logic controllers, robots, milling machines and a flexible manufacturing cell, the lab will give engineering students knowledge of fundamental concepts in industrial automation and flexible manufacturing.

The lab will serve students in a manufacturing automation course (GE 298) that will be offered in the spring of 2017. It will also be available for students working on their senior engineering projects.

Students will be able to use the equipment to learn things such as how machines are scheduled in an automation setting, what different types of robots exist for these processes, and how to program these robots using different programming methods.

They will also have the opportunity to utilize knowledge in automation methods, different types of programming, and computer-aided design toward hands-on training that will prepare them to work in modern factories.

Pramod Chembrammel, a research scientist at the Health Care Engineering Systems Center at the University of Illinois, wanted to coordinate the creation of the lab and the manufacturing automation course so students would have knowledge of manufacturing industries when they graduate.

“When they graduate and go to industry, they should have that knowledge to come up with new methods of automation, and also to work with automation technologies in automated factories,” Chembrammel said. “We want to equip them to face those challenges.”

Flexible manufacturing is an advanced form of manufacturing setting that includes a lot of automation compared to conventional factories. This automation allows factories to accommodate a variety of products.

“Almost all the factories are moving toward automation,” Chembrammel explained. “They still have some human intervention involved, but ultimately it’s going to get there — completely automated factories.”

Fully automated factories will be able to reduce production costs, improve quality, and provide for cases where human intervention is not possible in the manufacturing process.

The Flexible Manufacturing Lab will be the first lab with this kind of equipment at the University of Illinois. Chembrammel said they are working with companies such as Rockwell Automation for guidance on how to best design the lab.

With the new manufacturing automation course being created in coordination with the creation of the lab, Chembrammel believes these both will give students a necessary introduction to the automation that is now becoming standard in the industry.

“Students are going to learn the theory in the class and then come here and implement it to get a good experience,” he said.

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