A team of MSOE students won first place at Rockwell 24toCode, a Rockwell Automation hackathon. The hackathon challenged teams to use their expertise in emerging technologies to solve some of Rockwell Automation’s biggest and real challenges.

The team was comprised of sophomores Nathan DuPont (computer science), Trenton Bowser (computer science), Andrew Kempen (electrical engineering) and Joey Carey (mechanical engineering). They were presented with multiple challenges and could choose which one they wanted to solve and then present to a board of administrators from Rockwell Automation, Microsoft and other companies at the end of the 24-hour hackathon.

The challenge they chose was centered around implementing a solution to improve the industrial pick-and-place machines for printed circuit boards (PCBs). Currently, the machines occasionally fail in their operations, which leads to one or more of the PCBs being produced to become defective. As these defective PCBs move further down the assembly process, it becomes exponentially more expensive to fix the error.

The team was given 24 hours to complete the challenge and took turns taking sleeping shifts. Their biggest challenge was understanding the scope of the problem and finding a starting point. Through many trials and errors and failed ideas, they shifted their focus to building their own application, which allowed their team members to break apart into separate sections and get work done faster. 

“Our solution’s goal was to help identify failures as they are happening by relaying them to a web interface accessible to authorized employees within the manufacturing location, as well as utilizing a Recurrent Neural Network to predict when failures may occur in the future, caused from machine fatigue or other factors,” said DuPont. “Additionally, we conducted research into alternative data acquisition and processing methods that would perform on a cloud services provider which would provide more scalability to the products in the future.”

The team competed against 25 teams that were performing the same challenge as them plus an additional five teams that were pursuing another challenge more centered around cyber security. In the end, the team took home the top $4,000 prize that they plan to put toward tuition and invest in personal projects they each are working on.

While the hackathon was challenging and pushed them to the limit, they had a great time working together.

“From the weird problems we experienced during our programming session at 4 a.m. to making jokes with each other while half asleep, the experience was amazing. We were also able to meet plenty of people at the event, ranging anywhere from students to other Rockwell Automation employees. All in all, it was such a fun event to take part in and I highly recommend it to anyone else who can participate!”