Chemical and biological engineering students at UMR are getting more real-world experience with control systems in one of the department’s most important laboratories, thanks to the efforts of two UMR alumni who helped secure a recent donation of modern equipment and software for the department.
The control system hardware and other instrumentation comes from the former Rhodia Inc. aspirin manufacturing plant in St. Louis, which closed in April 2003. The equipment and related software allows students to conduct experiments in an environment similar to a chemical processing plant, as well as conduct computer-based simulations of potentially hazardous situations, such as a chemical spill or explosion. The modernized laboratory also benefits UMR’s electrical and computer engineering department by providing a design project for students from that department.
UMR graduates Dennis Clodfelter and Aaron Epperly, former engineers at Rhodia’s St. Louis facility, secured the donation of equipment, valued at $550,000, in 2003. Over the past several months, Clodfelter, an electrical engineer who received his bachelor’s degree from UMR in 1980, installed the equipment in the chemical and biological engineering department’s Unit Operations Laboratory. He also designed the automation system to work with current experiments in the "unit ops" lab and installed power and communication cabling throughout the control room and to experiment areas.
The laboratory is crucial to training students for careers in a variety of chemical and biological engineering fields, including agrochemical, chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturing, petroleum processing, and polymer manufacturing, says Dr. Judy Raper, chair of the department.
Raper and Dr. Robert Mitchell, dean of UMR’s School of Engineering, have formally recognized Clodfelter and Epperly for their efforts at a meeting of the UMR student chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Joining them were Dr. Kelvin Erickson, chair of the electrical and computer engineering department, and Dr. Robert A. Mollenkamp, adjunct professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of the Unit Operations Laboratory.
The lab’s new control system network consists of nine operator stations, two network servers and other equipment connected to a programmable logic controller. "This donation of equipment strengthens our entire program with the addition of greater industrial emphasis," says Mollenkamp.
The donation came about after Clodfelter’s son, Scott Clodfelter, a senior in chemical and biological engineering at UMR, told his father about the department’s need for a new control system in the Unit Operations Laboratory. The lab is used to teach fluid flow and heat transfer, separations, process control, and industrial process safety. Clodfelter contacted his supervisor, Epperly, about a possible donation of Rhodia equipment, and Epperly secured the control system hardware, software and other equipment.
The donation not only benefits chemical and biological engineering students, but also students in the electrical and computer engineering department. Five electrical and computer engineering students are using the system for their senior design project. They are currently developing the operator interface screens and the program in the programmable logic controller to control a heat exchanger and distillation column.