By Rashda Khan
Dean Joseph Tedesco; Robb Black, president and CEO of Omron Automation Americas; and Badri Roysam
The UH Cullen College of Engineering and Omron Corp. recently celebrated the official unveiling of the Omron Senior Design and Robotics Laboratory with cookies, punch and a wide variety of robots. Company representatives and faculty mingled with students and checked out different senior capstone projects – from a sorting robot to a mobile robotic billboard.
The lab, which directly benefits students in the electrical and computer engineering department (ECE), is divided into the senior design area and a robotics area.
Omron, the only company in the world today that offers a full suite of industrial automation products – from sensors and vision to motion control and robotics, not only paid for the lab with dedicated workbenches for student teams, but also donated the cutting-edge equipment and technology inside.
Robert M. Black, president, chief executive officer and chief operating officer of Omron Automation Americas, said partnering with UH was key to building up future generations.
“We believe the generation graduating today is going to be entering the workforce tomorrow, so we want to bring the skills they have learned in school into the manufacturing sector,” he said. “I’m ecstatic that we’re able to work with the University of Houston on the Omron Senior Design and Robotics Lab. I think it’s a great way for students to learn real-world technology and apply it once they leave. We couldn’t be more proud to pair up with the University on the future generation.”
Having a dedicated state-of-the-art laboratory space makes a huge difference to the students, said Len Trombetta, associate department chair for ECE.
“If you walk into a laboratory, and there’s equipment there for you and resources available to you, you’re going to do a better job than if you have to fight for a bench or scrounge for equipment,” he said. “It means a lot for the students to be able to come in and have a place they call their own, where they can work on their projects and have all the equipment and resources they need.”
Senior design projects are one of the last major hurdles engineering undergraduates tackle before graduation. “They’ll be taking other courses as well at the same time, but prospective employers will expect them to speak intelligently about what they worked on for their design project so the experience they gain at this stage is very important,” Trombetta said. “This [lab] makes our graduates very marketable because these are skills companies want. We’re grateful to Omron for making this possible.”
Building the future in a changing world
Black, who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Marquette University about 32 years ago, remarked that capstone projects have changed quite a bit.
“When I graduated in electrical engineering, you … built a power supply [for your senior design project] or you built a power supply. Those were a lot of the choices back then,” he said, after visiting with the students about their projects. “It’s amazing how far the students have come in the past decade or so.”
He was impressed and encouraged to see the variety of projects marrying together many different technologies and robotic functions and, he added, that’s exactly what is needed for the dynamic marketplace.
“Manufacturing today is a different animal than when I graduated … it was looked upon as this dark business of getting your hands dirty, working on a factory floor, there wasn’t a lot of excitement,” Black shared with the students. “Today you have robotics, artificial intelligence, big data … things that are changing manufacturing faster than ever before. So the opportunities you have as graduate engineers is outstanding.”
A game-changing gift
Omron has a long history of supporting the Cullen College and its electrical and computer engineering students.
In 2010, the Omron Foundation established the endowed Omron Scholarship in electrical engineering. The company also sponsored a team of students in the Capstone Design course, which requires senior students to apply their engineering knowledge by solving real-world problems faced by those working in industry. Omron’s engineers have worked closely with UH electrical and computer engineering students since then, sponsoring several more capstone design projects and providing one-on-one mentoring to UH engineering students for almost a decade.
Joseph W. Tedesco, Elizabeth D. Rockwell Dean of the Cullen College, referred to Omron’s most recent gift as a milestone.
“The Omron Senior Design and Robotics Lab is truly a game changer for the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department because it gives our students the opportunity to work with the latest technology, the latest equipment and the latest software – all provided by Omron,” Tedesco said. “We’re proud to have the Omron name displayed in our college and I look forward to continuing this relationship into the future.”
Black offered some parting advice to the Cullen College students:
“Make a difference. Everyone today has the ability to make a difference in anything you do. Leave this place with the knowledge you gained, bring it to your next job, make a difference, show what you can do with your skills,” he said. “Engineering is about problem solving, and that is what business is today.”
Omron Automation is an industrial automation partner that creates, sells and services fully integrated automation solutions. The companies Omron works with include those in the automotive, food and beverage, infrastructure, semi-conductor and digital sectors among others. Established in 1933 and currently headed by President Yoshihito Yamada, Omron’s 36,000 employees help businesses solve problems with creativity in more than 110 countries.