Advanced manufacturing—often referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, or industry 4.0—is fundamentally transforming the manufacturing world. Traditional manufacturing practices that bring to mind factories where laborers perform rote, repetitive work are being replaced with highly skilled workers and machine learning, automation, additive manufacturing, and much more.
But how can our undergraduate engineering education (UEE) programs best prepare the future workforce for this seismic shift in manufacturing practices? This is the question Sundar Krishnamurty, head of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department of the UMass Amherst College of Engineering, aims to answer.
“This knowledge transfer is one of the main bottlenecks for us as a country to ensure we are competitive and stay competitive,” Krishnamurty says. “The next generation of engineers needs to be familiar with, and be thought leaders in, advanced manufacturing. That means we need to study and address any educational gaps.”
To critically examine this issue, Krishnamurty, who also serves as the Ronnie & Eugene M. Isenberg Distinguished Professor in Engineering and site director for the Center for e-Design, was recently appointed to the study committee for Strengthening the Talent for National Defense: Infusing Advanced Manufacturing into Engineering Education, run by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
The committee’s charge is to examine current UEE practices and make recommendations for integrating advanced manufacturing teaching and technologies into these programs to ensure that engineering students enter the workforce ready to excel in advanced manufacturing or design-for-manufacturing.
Even before joining the committee, Krishnamurty was already deeply invested and excited by this question of how to bring advanced manufacturing into the classroom.
“We know that many of our engineering students go on to work in fields related to manufacturing, as well as aerospace, automotive, and defense, all of which are industries that incorporate advanced manufacturing,” Krishnamurty says. “This is a topic of great interest to our students, alumni, and recruiting industries, and there is already support from within the university system to enrich our student experience, as highlighted by our newly established advanced manufacturing facilities such as the Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication (ADDFab)."
While the final recommendations from the study committee won’t be available until next year, the College of Engineering has already begun making changes at a pilot level.
“We’ve made changes to the capstone design process,” says Krishnamurty, “and we recently hired six faculty members with focus areas in manufacturing, including for the first time ever, a professor of practice in manufacturing, Jim LaGrant.”
The College of Engineering is also developing a new graduate degree program in manufacturing.
“We already have many of the capabilities for advanced manufacturing education in place, and our goal as a college is to continue to be at the forefront of changes that are very exciting and very smart,” Krishnamurty says.