A graduate of the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering is a member of the team at Weiler Labeling Systems providing customized labels for the new COVID-19 vaccine labels.
Austin Dodge, a December 2017 graduate of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, said this sort of work was what she had in mind when she graduated.
“This is exactly the work I envisioned,” she said. “I wanted something hands on. If I program something, I want to see something move in the real world, and I get to work right next to the machine. There are a lot of engineering jobs where you sit in a cubicle and you don't even get to see the product you're working on, but I actually get to do hands on diagnostics. I get to test my code as soon as I make a change and get instant feedback, which is really satisfying.”
Weiler announced in August 2020 that the VR-72 labeler would be used the vaccine when it was finished. According to information provided by Weiler, the labeler can handle speeds of more than 600 vials per minute.
A graduate of Westside High School in Houston, Dodge said the work with Weiler aligns with her studies and outside the classroom she pursued in college. Dodge was part of a team of four undergraduates who earned second place in the 2017 NASA Swarmathon, and Weiler also uses small, nimble teams for each project.
“We only have about 65 people in the company and the way we compete with much larger firms is by offering more customization,” she said. “We do have a few base models but almost all of our work requires us to add on some custom features. I program the software changes needed for a new machine, whether that's specific beacon behavior, new fault codes, or additional sensors and drives that the customer requested.”
Dodge is one member of a small team of about 10 working on the labels for the vaccine. Dodge said this allows the team to remain nimble, and to provide a combination of speed and precision that is vital for vaccine and other medical labeling.
“It's satisfying to be able to build something, and to watch a machine I programmed label something at incredible speeds,” she said. “It's satisfying to be able to contribute in a very tangible way. Mislabeled vials can have huge repercussions. Some machines can be used for a dozen different products, and a bad label can result in a patient getting the wrong drug, so how well I do my job matters and I take pride in that.”