| By Dorothy Lozowski
Manufacturing is becoming more advanced as companies adopt new technologies to stay competitive and to help achieve newer sustainability goals. The Covid-19 pandemic and issues, such as supply-chain shortages, have accelerated this adoption, particularly of digitalization. The shift to advanced manufacturing has created a need for different skillsets in the workforce.
Advanced manufacturing refers to the use of innovative technologies applied to manufacturing. While the technologies vary in different manufacturing sectors, the majority of advances currently referred to are related to automation and digitalization — such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), robotics, advanced data analysis and more. Traditional engineering curricula give students very limited exposure to these topics.
Training and education
Universities, industry and government are all actively working to address the skills gap in manufacturing. Companies are investing in training to upskill their workforce, as well as investing in, and partnering with, educational institutions. A recent example is the donation of over $1 million in equipment and money from ConocoPhillips (www.conocophillips.com) to Prarie View A&M University (www.pvamu.edu) for engineering and business analytics education.
Arizona State University (ASU; www.asu.edu) opened a new school last year that collaborates with several industrial partners, and aims to build upon the university’s existing engineering programs to meet the growing demands of advanced manufacturing. ASU’s School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks announced last month that it has added a doctoral degree to its bachelor’s and master’s degrees in its new manufacturing engineering program.
Last year, the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST; www.nist.gov) awarded over $2 million to seven organizations to develop manufacturing technology roadmaps in order to strengthen advanced manufacturing in critical and emerging technologies.
And last month, Virginia Tech (www.vt.edu) received a U.S. Dept. of Defense (DoD) grant to purchase cutting-edge 3-D metal printing technology for education and research. The award will fund up to $800,000 for a computerized additive friction stir deposition (AFSD) machine.
The DoD also supports a free machine-tool training program called America’s Cutting Edge (ACE) that is designed to create skilled machinists for precision manufacturing. The program is led by the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI; www.iacmi.org).
A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (www.nationalacademies.org) examines the skills gap in manufacturing and focuses on how undergraduate education programs can better address the needs . Among the recommendations offered for education programs, industry and government are: to incorporate manufacturing into every engineering undergraduate program; to strengthen collaboration between academia and industry; and to engage undergraduates in “hands-on” experiences in advanced manufacturing.
These are a few examples of the growing momentum to build a workforce with the skills needed for advanced manufacturing. ■
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director