University of Southern Indiana opens $3.3 million Applied Engineering Center Featuring Technology That Positions University on International Map


The University of Southern Indiana cut the ribbon last week on its new state-of-the-art $3.3 million Applied Engineering Center and students began using the start of the fall semester. The Applied Engineering Center, featuring equipment not found elsewhere in North America, is a learning factory for students in USI’s Engineering and Industrial Supervision programs as well as a valuable tool to help support the regional business community.

The 16,226-square foot facility, designed with input from USI’s Industrial Advisory Board, representing a cross section of major manufacturers in Southwest Indiana, incorporates key features such as a 9,000-square foot open high bay with a 10-ton bridge crane and wide utility trenches that allow for increased configuration flexibility.

“Through the Division of Outreach and Engagement, the Applied Engineering Center can be a resource as well as a catalyst for economic development in Southwest Indiana and the Tri-state region,” said Daniela Vidal, director of USI’s Center for Applied Research and Economic Development and former instructor/coordinator of advanced manufacturing and industrial supervision.

With more than $3 million in high-tech manufacturing and engineering equipment, the center has unique features setting it apart from other facilities in the United States and North America. Equipment totaling $2.6 million was funded through three federal grants, while an additional $400,000 came from University matching funds.

One of the center’s showpieces is the MPS Transfer Factory Manufacturing System built by German company Festo, a leading world-wide supplier of automation technology and the performance leader in industrial training and education programs. Located in the center’s automation lab, it features a complete assembly line that can be reconfigured in different layouts to meet a variety of manufacturing needs. “This is the only equipment of its kind outside of Germany,” said Vidal. “The other is located at Osnabruck Technical College, located in Evansville’s sister city in Germany.” Vidal learned about the concept during a visit to Germany in 2010 and worked with Festo to have the equipment custom built for the USI facility.

Other areas of the center include material processing and fabrication, machining, plastics technology, circuit fabrication lab, automation lab, and a precision measuring lab/CAD lab. Key features include the latest technology in additive manufacturing, Wire EDM, a 5-Axis Waterjet, a welding robot, and a coordinate measuring machine.

The Applied Engineering Center will be used to teach students everything from the basics of manufacturing and equipment integration to more advanced industrial engineering concepts and production control. “That’s what makes this facility so special,” said Vidal. “The capabilities are unique to the United States.”

Added Vidal, “The new facility offers opportunity to partner with local industries that want to experiment with designing different production cells. “The goal is to use local industry to present problems that students can solve, but also use the building and its capabilities to offer training and certificate programs for employees of local companies.”

USI has already hosted visits from the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane (NSWC Crane), Berry Plastics Group, Kimball International and Flanders – a privately-owned manufacturer of motors, power systems, and automation solutions – to look at ways to collaborate.

In addition, the University has hosted a number of corporate site selectors and economic developers at the facility. “Technical talent is critical to Southwest Indiana’s large advanced manufacturing sector along with the rest of the nation,” said Greg Wathen, President & CEO, Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana. “USI’s Applied Engineering Center will provide the platform for students to learn how to work on real world projects by real employers and begin to minimize the skills gap.”

In 2012, USI matched curriculum with capabilities through a comprehensive review and update conducted for its Advanced Manufacturing and Industrial Supervision program. With the added capabilities now available through the Applied Engineering Center, it will be possible to significantly enhance the curriculum and open the door to new offerings in the future.

“We placed more emphasis on automated equipment, lean manufacturing business management strategy, and other modern manufacturing philosophies,” said Vidal. “According to an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) representative that reviewed our Engineering Program, there’s not another program in Indiana that teaches students in such a practical and hands-on way. It gives students an understanding of the challenges they’ll face, as well as contact with industrial partners that can later translate into employment.”