Caterpillar Inc. to build data analytics lab at Research Park

By Angelica Lavito

Caterpillar Inc. celebrated the 15th anniversary of its Champaign Simulation Center with plans to build a data analytics center.

The Simulation Center was established in Research Park in 1999 and has since provided University students with internships and employment opportunities. 

“The new lab will foster real world innovation by bringing together University researchers and Caterpillar analytics professionals from engineering, computer science, statistics and economics to work on challenges and opportunities raised by technological and cultural change,” said Barbara Cox, spokeswoman for Caterpillar. 

Research Park Director Laura Frerichs thinks Caterpillar’s addition of a data analytics lab reflects Champaign’s growth as a hub for big data. Earlier this year, a report identified data analytics as an area of potential economic development at the University.

“We think that Champaign is a great location for computing, but more specifically, analytics as a growing market opportunity, with many companies seeing the information they have as increasingly valuable in making more data-driven decisions for their business,” Frerichs said.

She added that the lab will open the Caterpillar experience to a wider scope of students, like those in math-related majors.

When the Caterpillar Simulation Center opened, there were three employees and four students working in conjunction with the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, according to Cox. 

Since then, they have worked with over 350 students, of which approximately 100 are now employees.

One of those employees is Ann Peedikayil, alumna, who received a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in 2003 and a bachelor’s degree in engineering mechanics in 2006. She started as an intern with Caterpillar and is now senior engineer at the Champaign Simulation Center.

“I think it’s an exciting time for everybody involved at Caterpillar, just to be part of something that is evolving,” Peedikayil said. “To me, it’s going to be really exciting to see the change.”

Peedikayil said the Simulation Center is a place to develop new technology and as the name suggests, create simulations that will help engineers test their designs. Interns work with employees like Peedikayil on real projects, giving them hands-on experience. 

Peedikayil said working with student interns from the University is a learning opportunity for her too. She said they bring fresh perspectives and often ask questions that help her improve her own skills.

“It’s really refreshing,” Peedikayil said. “The last time I finished a degree here was 8 years ago, so what’s exciting is all the different perspectives they have. They help keep my skill set fresh.”

This is Peedikayil’s 10th year at Caterpillar and said she has seen the company evolve greatly over the years. She is excited to see how it continues to evolve after the expansion. 

Caterpillar and the University will begin planning for the new data analytics lab later this year, according to a press release.

“We’ve seen a fantastic response from the local community, and our Champaign team is very engaged with our business partners at the University to move forward with the project,” Cox said.

Angelica can be reached at [email protected]ni.com.