UI students begin work with Deere's engineers

UI students begin work with Deere's engineers

CHAMPAIGN – Deere & Co.'s research center at the University of Illinois moves to a new home this week, but already students are working with Deere engineers on projects.

One student is working on engine modeling, another on control-systems development and the other five on sensor projects – chiefly to research and identify new sensor technologies.

"The nature of the work will be wide and varied," said Ashley Greer, manager of enterprise electronics strategy for Deere. "The key is, we want to have closer collaboration with the university and engage with professors on sponsored research projects."

The origin of the John Deere Technology Innovation Center started about two years ago, when Deere decided to focus more on innovation, said center director James E. Lenz.

The Moline-based maker of agricultural and construction equipment had many ties to the UI, and the university "popped to the forefront to make it happen," Lenz said.

At this point, five graduate students and two undergraduates are affiliated with the center. Many juggle work with school.

"We have students here from mechanical engineering and agricultural engineering," Lenz said. Deere has also talked with students in accounting, business, computer science and "pure science," among others.

"We're trying to hire a business major to do some economic modeling," said Greer, a UI alumnus who works at the center with Lenz.

In many cases, the students work with engineers in design groups at Deere factories. Eventually, students may get direction from Deere engineers as far away as Europe and Asia, Lenz said. But that shouldn't be a problem; today's students are used to communicating with people remotely, he said.

Many of the projects in Champaign involve sensors for agricultural equipment and new applications for sensors in construction equipment, he added.

The center has occupied temporary space in the State Farm/Strata Building in the UI Research Park. But this week it will move to a 7,500-square-foot space in the park's Information Technology Building at 2021 S. First St., C.

Greer said Deere doesn't have a physical presence on any other college campuses. But it is building ties with a university in Germany that's near Deere tractor and combine factories.

Greer – who is moving to Savoy within the next month – received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the UI in 1991 and an MBA from Illinois in 2003. He has been based in Moline, while Lenz, who has responsibility for enterprise sensors and electronic strategy, has been based in Fargo, N.D.

"Champaign will be my home base," Greer said. "But I'll still have to travel to all the different factories."

The UI has had long ties with Deere through the agriculture and engineering colleges, said Steve Sonka, the UI's interim vice chancellor for public engagement.

Sonka said he fully expects Deere's presence on campus to grow.

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