New Equipment Will Enable Students to Create Circuit Boards

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By Neil Nachbar

URI College of Engineering students will soon have a new instrument that will help prepare them for careers in some of the fastest-growing industry sectors.

Thanks to a $168,595 grant from The Champlin Foundation, a printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication station will enable students to gain hands-on experience in 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 2018 semester, students will experience the complete PCB prototyping process, from design on paper to a sophisticated working circuit. This technology will have real-world applications in such fields as the 5G network (next generation high speed wireless network infrastructure), machine learning, smart cities, internet-of-things (IoT), 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 (ECBE). “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

According to the proposal for the grant, the instrumentation will be utilized in several courses across the University, impacting approximately 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: Fundamental of Engineering, Introduction to Electrical Engineering, Linear Circuit and Lab, Electronics, Electromagnetic Fields, Wearable IoT, Neuro Engineering, and senior design courses.

“The PCB fabrication station will enable our students to rapidly test their sensitive electronic circuits built during a class project,” said ECBE 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 STEM education and STEM-related careers. The equipment can be used to conduct interactive presentations during these programs.

The equipment will be installed in the capstone design area of the URI College of Engineering space at Schneider Electric. Because the machines are portable, they will be transferred easily to the new engineering building upon its completion in 2019.

The primary principal investigator (PI) on the proposal for the grant was Tao Wei, associate professor in ECBE. The other 10 professors who collaborated on the proposal were Mankodiya, Fischer, Peter Swaszek, Haibo He and Qing Yang of 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.