The Future Is Now

Dr. Yohannes Haile in the new Prischak Robotics and Automation Lab.

Dr. Yohannes Haile in the new Prischak Robotics and Automation Lab.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

Robotics and Automation Lab opens in Burke Center

The new Prischak Robotics and Automation Lab in the School of Engineering is drawing the attention of area manufacturers and businesses that want to collaborate with the college on research and development projects.

It’s no surprise to Dr. Yohannes Haile, assistant teaching professor of management and industrial engi­neering, who points out that every manufacturer wants to improve their processes and/or production.

“Robotics and automation make manufacturers more competitive by increasing ef­ficiency, lowering labor costs, and reducing the ergonomic stress on workers,” Haile said.

Additionally, robotics and automation can help with labor shortages companies may face.

“Current estimates indicate there are 500,000 open manufacturing jobs in the country right now,” he said. “That is estimated to grow to 2.4 million by 2028.”

Haile has already had discussions and visits with regional manufacturers such as Parker LORD, Cummins Jamestown Engine Plant, Lake Erie Rubber, Port Erie Plastics, and PC Systems of Ridgway to explore potential projects. He expects to hear from many more.

The lab is equipped with a range of cutting-edge equipment, including industry-grade collaborative robots, vision systems, and sensors and control systems used in manufacturing. The facility was made possible by a $1.2 million gift from Erie-based plastics packaging manufac­turer, Plastek Group, and the family of its founder, the late Joe Prischak.

“The lab is configured as internal and external facing,” Haile said. “The internal facing aspect advances experiential learn­ing by students and supports the college’s research activities, and the external facing supports collaboration with industry, pro­viding a safe sandbox for experimentation of new ideas away from the manufacturing floor and also as a resource for upskilling a company’s workforce.”

Haile runs the lab with the help of student lab assistants from three different engineering disciplines, illustrating the multidisciplinary reach of the technology: Kayla Lindberg is a junior Mechanical Engineering major; Aaron Kovatch, a junior Industrial Engineering major; and Jacob Shaffstall, a sophomore Software Engineering major.

“I had worked with Universal Robots be­fore, so when I learned about this new lab, I applied right away,” Lindberg said. “It’s a huge opportunity to learn and grow.”

In addition to providing industry support, a goal of the lab is to provide students with opportunities to gain hands-on experience in robotics and automation through research projects, internships, and co-op programs.

“I was interested in working in the lab because I know it’s a powerful tool I can use after school,” Kovatch said. “We’re working with industry-grade equipment.”

“Working with robots is a great experi­ence,” Shaffstall said. “I learn something new every day, and I’m looking forward to doing some applied research projects.”