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A Life of a Lab from Need to Retirement: A Case Study in Automation

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Experimentation and Laboratory-Oriented Studies Division Technical Session 5

Tagged Division

Experimentation and Laboratory-Oriented Studies

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Paper Authors


Nebojsa I. Jaksic Colorado State University, Pueblo Orcid 16x16

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NEBOJSA I. JAKSIC earned the Dipl. Ing. degree in electrical engineering from Belgrade University (1984), the M.S. in electrical engineering (1988), the M.S. in industrial engineering (1992), and the Ph.D. in industrial engineering from the Ohio State University (2000). He is currently a Professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo teaching robotics and automation courses. Dr. Jaksic has over 80 publications and holds two patents. Dr. Jaksic's interests include robotics, automation, and nanotechnology engineering education and research. He is a licensed PE in the State of Colorado, a member of ASEE, a senior member of IEEE, and a senior member of SME.

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This work addresses ten stages of a lab lifecycle in an undergraduate engineering program, specifically a programmable logic controllers (PLCs) set of lab design exercises. It is important that the professors designing new labs, lab technicians, lab assistants, and administrators understand all these stages for planning and funding purposes. PLCs are specialized computers used in automation for controlling various industrial machines and production processes. They represent the backbone of the ongoing industrial revolution (Industry 4.0 or Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT). PLCs improved dramatically in recent years. To provide engineering and technology students with the up-to-date knowledge and hands-on experiences with the state-of-the-art technology, engineering and technology educators must adapt by creating and offering new labs. Students’ engineering design experiences must be enhanced to take advantages of these enhanced PLCs. The following ten general lab lifecycle stages are addressed: 1. Need: Most of the labs start with a need to prove a theoretical concept using experiments or to design a process or product using modern engineering tools. Here, the later is emphasized. Often, a demonstration of a novel instrument or device is observed. Also, the current laboratory experiences are assessed and found that they are inadequate in lieu of new technologies. 2. Conception: In this stage, mostly, replacement of the old lab’s instrumentation/equipment with the state-of-the-art versions is sought; preliminary evaluations of new instrumentation/equipment capabilities are performed, and some possible new lab ideas are explored 3. Funding: Funding justification is provided based on the obsolescence of the current equipment, the need to provide a pertinent experience with the state-of-the-art technology, and the development of new lab experiences. 4. Purchasing: The list of equipment specifications is created; vendors are contacted; a bidding process (if necessary) is conducted, and the equipment is purchased. 5. Installation: Here, the purchased equipment is installed; if the devices are small and relatively inexpensive the installation is performed by the lab personnel, otherwise the installation and even some training are performed by the vendor. The equipment is still off-line, i.e., it is not used in the lab. 6. Lab Development – Replacement: In this stage, first, only a small portion of the old instruments/equipment is replaced with the new for a pilot run. Then, the software (and possibly computer hardware) is changed to accommodate new equipment, and the replacement labs (the same or similar to the current labs) are developed and tested. A small group of volunteer undergraduate students (and often a couple of graduate students) are exposed to this new lab experience. Here, the lab instructions are developed by instructors and verified by students. In parallel, some preliminary knowledge and attitude assessments are developed, and tested using the volunteers. 7. Full Deployment: All equipment is replaced; the lab instructions are complete for the replacement design problems/labs using the new equipment; all students in the lab have similar active experiences; knowledge gain and attitude surveys are implemented and results analyzed showing the successful implementation of new equipment. Labs run smoothly. 8. New Lab Development: Based on new, previously unavailable features of the equipment, novel laboratory experiments or design problems are conceived and implemented. 9. Regular Maintenance: Labs run smoothly; mostly wear and tear part replacements; obsolescence challenges are met (new software installations, operating system advancements, computer hardware changes, etc.) 10. Retirement: Conditions - equipment software updates are not supported by the manufacturer; replacement parts are hard to find and/or are expensive; new computer hardware and/or software are not supported by the equipment, or students are asking about newer versions that they have seen in industry. Old equipment is replaced. During the last 25 years, the author has experienced a number of industrial automation equipment lifecycles (e.g. small PLCs), from General Electric’s GE Series One, Allen-Bradley’s SLC 100 series, MicroLogix 1000 series, to Micro800 series. The ten lifecycle stages of SLC 100 PLCs, from Need to Retirement, are described in detail. In this case, a transition from SLC 100 series to Micro800 series is addressed. Features of Micro800 are emphasized. Examples of changes in a set of laboratory design exercises are provided. Finally, a students’ attitude survey dealing with new equipment is developed, implemented, and analyzed.

Jaksic, N. I. (2019, June), A Life of a Lab from Need to Retirement: A Case Study in Automation Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--31965

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