New majors ‘power’ electronics lab at Penn College

Published 11.30.2020

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The addition of two automation degrees is powering a new electronics lab at Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Located in the Center for Business & Workforce Development, the 906-square-foot space is accommodating about 60 students per semester who are seeking an automation engineering technology baccalaureate degree in either mechatronics or robotics.

“Industry was telling us that they liked what our students were doing, but they were looking for more because of the growth of automation in industry,” said Stacey C. Hampton, assistant dean of industrial and computer technologies. “We looked at what we already had and how we could expand on that. When we expanded the program, we needed to expand the space. Now that we put stuff in there, I don’t know if it’s big enough!”

Electronics students at Pennsylvania College of Technology finish installing a conveyer unit in a new lab at the college’s Center for Business & Workforce Development. The addition of two automation engineering technology baccalaureate degrees prompted the creation of the electronics lab. Besides the conveyer system, the space features 16 programmable logic controller stations and four Kuka industrial robots. About 60 students per semester are using the lab.The lab is equipped with 16 programmable logic controller stations, four Kuka robots and a conveyer system.

Considered the heart of automation, PLCs are robust industrial computers that control manufacturing processes. The college’s new units include Allen-Bradley and Siemens PLCs, so students can experience two common programming languages.

Ben L. Wertz, of New Bloomfield, an electronics and computer engineering technology student, and Thomas I. Gartside, of Ridley Park, majoring in automation engineering technology: robotics and automation concentration, mounted and wired the PLC stations for their internship.

“Any computer in this room can connect to any other device in this room, so you can work on a PLC across the room,” Wertz said. “It’s a really good feeling to help the incoming students and the students who are already here who will get to use this lab.”

The Kuka robots feature vision systems, meaning they rely on camera-provided feedback to complete complex tasks.

“Vision systems are getting more popular in automation,” explained Ken J. Kinley, an assistant professor and department head of electronics and computer engineering technology. “Companies are going to need people to install them, set them up.”

The conveyer exposes students to various mechanical components of automation as well as pneumatics and electronics.

“You can see multiple-step processes with our conveyer system,” said Chet W. Karpyn, of Germansville, who is majoring in automation engineering technology: mechatronics concentration. “You can see motion control. You can see product moving. You can make it move and change the speeds.”

As part of a class assignment, students spent several weeks decommissioning and assembling the conveyer.

“A lot of times in a company, they’re going to tell you, ‘Hey, we need that conveyer moved to this room by Thursday and running.’ It’s a lot of pressure. And the best way to learn that really isn’t from a book; it’s really by doing it,” Kinley said.

Karpyn admitted that it’s a challenging process.

“You really have to document everything and realize how everything is interacting with itself and other pieces of the actual system,” he said. “Once you put it all back together, the troubleshooting starts, and you’ve got to make it run.”

Hampton believes the new lab and its equipment will spur growth for the automation programs.

“We recruited the whole class that came in now without having that lab, so having that lab when our department is doing tours or when we get people on campus is just going to add another layer of excitement,” she said. “They can see all the learning stations. They can see the robots. They can see the conveyer system.”
During their first two years of study, students in the automation majors can earn an associate degree in electronics and computer engineering technology or mechatronics. The curriculum is similar for both automation concentrations during the final two years, and graduates are expected to enjoy the same result – a quality career.

Typical job titles include automation integrator, mechanical technician, controls engineer and project engineer.

“Automation is a huge field,” Kinley said. “And I think when the coronavirus is over, the field is only going to get bigger because people are realizing more that we can’t rely on foreign countries to make a lot of our stuff. We need to make it here. My opinion is I think it’s going to skyrocket.”

“It’s nice to know that what you planned for going through your four years is actually coming to fruition,” added Karpyn, who already has an associate degree in mechatronics engineering technology. “You’re getting a job. You’re going to go out and make a career.”

For information on the college’s various electronics degrees and other majors offered by the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.

Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.