How Universities Are Facing the Moment

As manufacturers embrace autonomous technologies to produce goods more efficiently and solve supply chain challenges, universities focus on preparing tomorrow’s tech workforce for new jobs in smart manufacturing – where emerging technologies and processes in machine learning, data science and advanced 3D printing will change the way things are done over the coming decades.

According to a to study last year from Deloitte and a nonprofit called The Manufacturing Institute, more than 2 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled over the next decade as new demands add to a shortage technology talent pool, where employers across all industries are struggling to find qualified candidates for IT vacancies. Research indicates that such changes could cost the US economy up to $1 trillion by 2030.

Nathan Hartman, director of the Purdue University Digital Enterprise Center, said digital manufacturing will not only require more technology professionals, but also more advanced technical knowledge. He said workers with specialized skills in additive manufacturing, robotic programming, artificial intelligence and data science will work together to reshape the future of manufacturing.

“Whether it’s for machine diagnostics, quality control or predictive maintenance, it’s starting to become a little more mainstream than it used to be,” he said, adding that advances in emerging technologies are ushering in a fourth industrial revolution, which some have called “Industry 4.0″. .”


Seeing digitalization happening in other industries during COVID-19, students across the United States have enrolled in crash courses to learn skills in coding, web design, and other related fields. to computing. Schools such as Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana have even added 3D printing training courses to their programming to familiarize students with the technological tools that will play a role in Industry 4.0.

While much of the focus has been on getting students into jobs within months through accelerated certification courses like these, Hartman said many are still opting for traditional degrees in programs such as Purdue Smart Manufacturing Industrial Computing to learn advanced skills in artificial intelligence, materials science and other subjects that will define Industry 4.0.

“There’s a lot of talk these days about retraining or upskilling the workforce, but there are options at most universities for a minor or certificate-type experience, even while they’re doing their undergraduate degree,” he said. “It really depends on the university in terms of how they approach it.”

Hartman said data analysts will play one of the most crucial roles as autonomous technologies take on new roles in production. As these technologies become more complex, so will the knowledge needed to operate and manage production processes.

“Much of what was automated [in the past] was human physical labor. I think what we’re seeing today are the beginnings of automation of decision-making, which was historically left to humans who were part of the manufacturing process,” he said. “Before, our goal was to automate or lighten or reduce the human labor involved. Now it goes beyond the physical sense and into the cognitive and decisional sense.

The complexity of these tasks means that accelerated certification programs won’t be a silver bullet for smart manufacturing, at least not for higher-level positions requiring more advanced specializations. Danielle Cote, an assistant professor in the materials science and engineering program at Worcester Polytechnic Institute whose research focuses on additive manufacturing, said Industry 4.0 professionals will need transdisciplinary skill sets. not often found in accelerated training programs. In addition to gaining specialized IT expertise for their positions, she said, smart manufacturing professionals must also be able to collaborate with others managing different processes in the workplace.

“We are seeing a strong demand for data scientists, computer scientists, robotic programmers, materials scientists, and of course mechanical and manufacturing engineers,” she said. “Students cannot simply be trained in their narrow fields. You can’t just ask a mechanical engineer to do it alone. They must either work and collaborate with others or have [additional] skills themselves.

“Most of our engineers have some programming component, but it’s really important to really understand it and have that full experience,” she said. “For a lot of the autonomous checks we want to do, that’s another role for IT and/or data scientists.”

Côté said IT professionals in smart manufacturing will also need to adapt to rapid technological changes as their fields advance. She noted that newer 3D printers and the means by which they work, for example, have changed rapidly over the past decade, noting that “things are changing hourly” today in terms of capabilities and design. manufacturing applications.

“We buy 3D printers for our lab and then find out a few weeks later that there’s a new model out there,” she said, adding that course materials need to be continually updated to stay relevant.

Cote said waitlists for his metal additives course have recently increased as students become more interested in smart manufacturing jobs and advanced 3D printing technology that will play a role in streamlining operations. production and supply chain.

“Our students are so excited about this,” she said, adding that this growing interest in digital manufacturing will ultimately serve to keep the United States competitive. “Converting a lot of traditional jobs to smart jobs makes us more efficient, and that’s where smart manufacturing is going to help us. It’s going to make us more efficient as a nation and how we produce things.


According to Krystel Castillo, professor of energy and mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

Castillo, also director of the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute, a renewable energy technology company, said smart technologies would boost manufacturers’ profits and production numbers while reducing their carbon footprint in the fight against climate change – but not without certain computer security risks.

Castillo said smart manufacturers could unknowingly open themselves up to new cybersecurity vulnerabilities involving IT and OT systems through the rapid adoption of digital technologies and larger networks taking on more responsibilities. She suggested companies “harden their systems to be secure by design” and employ IT security personnel to manage networks – two main focuses of cybersecurity research efforts and the course catalog. the UTSA.

“We work to secure manufacturers’ digital operations against cyber threats, and we bring together three very unique and very different communities,” she said. “We must have [insights from] cybersecurity experts and manufacturers, and people in charge of operations, designing processes and minimizing energy consumption.”

Marjorie N. McClure