Ridgefield-based Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals has donated nearly $700,000 worth of robotic tools to Fairfield University's School of Engineering. The robotics will enable students to gain hands-on automation skills, which will help them find jobs in aerospace, biomedical development and manufacturing industries, school officials said.

Jack Beal, dean of the School of Engineering, said the tools will provide learning opportunities and lab experiences for undergraduates and graduate students in the Automation Engineering program.

"Students will learn operational techniques to utilize these robotic tools for a wide variety of laboratory processes, such as those found in pharmaceutical development industries," Beal said. "You would be surprised to learn how many processes in industry are still done by hand, so robotics are the key to the future growth and increased productivity of many industries."

Although the robotic handling systems are designed for use in manipulating pharmaceutical materials, Fairfield engineering students will use them to master the mechanics behind how they work. The tools, essentially an integrated set of systems, have a lot of moving parts, so students will learn how to manipulate them and troubleshoot any glitches in their operation. From there, students can then apply that knowledge to mastering robotic tools and other engineering challenges.

"All of this is computer controlled," Beal said. "The trick here is to get it to all work together as an integrated system."

According to Dr. Paul Botosani, chair of Automation Engineering Department, the tools will help students learn about industrial robotics, automated work cells and CIM Systems, end-of-arm tooling, automation sensors, work-cell support systems, robot and system integration, safety, and work-cell programming, among others skills.

The new tools at Fairfield include:

* Robotic Plate Handlers that pick up laboratory micro plates and move them onto other micro plate based instruments;

* A Robotic Benchtop 12-Channel Dispensor provides automatic dispensing (pipetting) of up to 12 liquid samples at a time in a small tabletop configuration;

* and a BioRad VersArray Chip Writer Pro, which can robotically handle glass, matrix, ceramic, and metal slides.