New Equipment Helps Engineering Students Create Circuit Boards


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Engineering students at the University of Rhode Island will soon have a new instrument to help prepare them for careers in the industry.

Thanks to a $168,595 grant from The Champlin Foundation, a printed circuit board, or PCB, fabrication station will allow students to get experience creating their own circuit prototypes. The station will include a laser structuring machine, a copper plating machine, and a multilayer pressing machine.

Starting in the spring semester, students will experience the complete circuit board prototyping process, from design on paper to a sophisticated working circuit. The technology will have applications in such fields as the 5G network (next generation high speed wireless network infrastructure), machine learning, smart cities, internet-of-things, self-driving vehicles and robotics, where electronic circuitry is the core building block.

“PCB designing is a very important skill for engineers in the marketplace,” said Kunal Mankodiya, assistant professor in the College of Engineering’s Department of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering. “The new PCB fab station will enable our students to convert their engineering ideas into real-world products.”

The equipment will be shared by the five departments that applied for the grant:

  • Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Ocean Engineering
  • Mechanical, Industrial & Systems Engineering
  • Computer Science and Statistics

The instrumentation will be used in several courses at the University, helping about 1,000 students. An online scheduling system will be used for students to book the equipment, with priority given to classes and outreach activities.

Some of the courses that could incorporate the equipment into the curricula include Fundamentals of Engineering, Introduction to Electrical Engineering, Linear Circuit and Lab, Electronics, Electromagnetic Fields, Wearable Internet of Things and Neuro Engineering, as well as senior design courses.

“The PCB fabrication station will enable our students to rapidly test their sensitive electronic circuits built during a class project,” said engineering professor Godi Fischer.

Another application of the PCB fabrication station would be outreach activities for students in kindergarten through grade 12. Currently, URI faculty and students work closely with local schools and communities to promote science, math, engineering and technology education, and careers in those fields.

The equipment will be installed in the capstone design area of the URI College of Engineering space at nearby Schneider Electric. Because the machines are portable, they will be transferred easily to the new URI engineering building when it’s completed in 2019.

The principal investigator on the proposal for the grant was Tao Wei, associate professor of Electrical, Computer and Biomedical Engineering. The other professors who collaborated on the proposal were Mankodiya, Fischer, Peter Swaszek, Haibo He and Qing Yang, all from ECBE; Otto Gregory from the Department of Chemical Engineering; James Miller from the Department of Ocean Engineering; Yi Zheng and Chengzhi Yuan from the Department of Mechanical, Industrial & Systems Engineering; and Joan Peckham of the Department of Computer Science and Statistics.

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