FACTORY OF THE FUTURE Educators focus on teaching skills to help students master both physical and virtual worlds
Manufacturers are increasingly using new technologies, including the Industrial Internet of Things, robotics and additive manufacturing, to eliminate waste and raise productivity. But educators are challenged to train the new workforce and retrain existing ones with the skills they need to work successfully in these factories of the future.
In the factory of the future – also known as the smart factory or Industry 4.0 – people and technology work together in an environment that seamlessly combines virtual and physical worlds, all aimed at improving efficiency and sustainability.
“The combination of ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ in order to get a full view of the complete value chain will allow factories to produce more rapidly, more efficiently and with greater output using fewer resources,” according to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), a Switzerland-based international technology standards organization, in its “Factory of the Future” white paper.
While the vision may be futuristic, it’s already paying off for the world’s most advanced manufacturers. The American Society for Quality’s “2014 Manufacturing Outlook Survey” found that 82% of organizations that had implemented smart manufacturing reported increased efficiency, 49% said they experienced fewer product defects and 45% said they had increased customer satisfaction.
For all manufacturers to benefit from the factory of the future, however, requires “highly skilled technical talent,” the IEC advised – workers who can understand and manipulate virtual models of the physical environment. That represents a challenge for educators, and some of the world’s top technical training institutions are adopting new approaches to helping workers develop the skills demanded by futuristic factories.
The concept of smart factories or Industry 4.0, conceived in Germany as “Industrie 4.0,” has demanded new ways of thinking about both manufacturing and education.
“We face the same challenge in our curricula as the industry does with its production processes,” said Vera Hummel, professor of Logistics and Industrial Engineering at ESB Business School at Reutlingen University in Germany. “Industry 4.0 is not simply about production efficiency. It is also about how you can build up new business models based on dedicated technologies. By understanding the potential of digital transformation and of the integration of the physical factory with the real-time digital image, which bi-directionally maps the virtual and the real world, students will be prepared to become the future experts of our economy.”
The American Society for Quality found that 82% of organizations that implemented smart manufacturing reported increased efficiency, and 49% experienced fewer product defects
For students, this entails learning three nontraditional skills.
“The first challenge for students is learning to use the hybrid working system in combination with the technical assistance and cyberphysical systems,” Hummel said.
“The second is the seamless digital engineering environment. In the past, students only had to work with either CAD, process engineering or robot simulations, but now they have to work with all of these digital tools, which support advanced, world-class production technologies in a seamless development process. The third challenge is learning to manage intelligent products based on highly diverse customer requirements in self-steering production systems.”
Teaching those skills demands a move away from traditional classes, where subjects are separated by discipline, to give students a comprehensive understanding of the interrelationships and dependencies among mechanical, informatics and automation processes, Hummel said.
Master’s degree students therefore spend two days a week for 15 weeks working on projects in a specially constructed “ESB Learning Factory,” which combines the physical infrastructure for production with cloud- based tools for digital engineering. “They learn how to handle big data, digital processes, new business models and new cooperation models between departments,” Hummel said. “Our vision is to create a future-oriented ESB learning factory that will give the students hands-on experience with the world’s newest technologies in the context of Industry 4.0.”
In France, the National Engineering School of Metz (ENIM) is a member of the National Polytechnic Institute of Lorraine (Lorraine-INP), a collegium of 11 engineering schools at the University of Lorraine. ENIM launched the Factory Futures program, an international collaborative project that employs cloud-enabled product lifecycle management (PLM) technology, to prepare students worldwide for futuristic factory environments.
“The pedagogical model of engineering schools in France and abroad provides no curriculum to prepare our youth to carry out engineering projects in a global context,” said Julien Zins, PLM project director and Latin America coordinator at ENIM. “Mobility is mandatory for ENIM students, and we have more than 120 agreements with institutions across the planet.”
“INDUSTRY 4.0 IS NOT SIMPLY ABOUT PRODUCTION EFFICIENCY; IT IS ALSO ABOUT HOW YOU CAN BUILD UP NEW BUSINESS MODELS BASED ON THE NEW TECHNOLOGY AND SERVICE SOLUTIONS.”PROFESSOR OF PROCUREMENT, PRODUCTION AND TRANSPORTATION LOGISTICS, INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING, REUTLINGEN UNIVERSITY
The Global Factory project, launched in 2012, together with the Factory Futures program, begun in September 2016, provides opportunities for the institutions’ students to conduct an engineering project with 17 of the universities’ partners, working with 100 students and professors in 10 countries. Another objective, Zins said, was to share the universities’ experience with digital 3D solutions in PLM with their partner universities.
“A problem-based, multidisciplinary approach allows the integration of international partners with diverse skills, such as mechatronics or innovation management,” Zins said. “This year, for example, we have integrated two schools that are members of the Lorraine-INP collegium of the University of Lorraine – the Graduate Schools of Science and Technology Engineering of Nancy (ESSTIN) and the National Graduate School in Innovation Systems Engineering (ENSGSI) – to help us include those two skills.”
“UNIVERSITIES HAVE TO RECOGNIZE THAT IT’S NOT ENOUGH TO TEACH ENGINEERS THE ENGINEERING ASPECT OF PRODUCT CREATION; THEY ALSO HAVE TO TEACH MANUFACTURING.”PROFESSOR AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ADVANCED MANUFACTURING AND INNOVATIVE DESIGN, FLORIDA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Staying up to date is critical if educators hope to deliver the skills their students need. Zins and his colleagues, for example, are closely following the actions of the French government and the “Industry of the Future,” a national initiative that involves technology companies, professional associations and academic partners and promotes the government’s program to digitally transform industry in France.
“From a hardware point of view, French schools can respond easily to this challenge, although educators will have to modernize their courses more often regarding the tools and must remain competent in the latest software,” Zins said. “It’s very important to have both professors and engineering staff certified in the relevant solutions. Luckily, in France, the AIP-PRIMECA network centralizes the training needs of higher education teachers in the 3D solutions we are using. They offer training throughout the year for teachers wishing to train in specialized areas.”
For US educators, the factory of the future could mean a growing number of manufacturing jobs for US workers.
“There is pressure on US universities to educate on manufacturing, which universities really haven’t done that much of in the past,” said Michael Grieves, professor and executive director of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovative Design (CAMID) at the Florida Institute of Technology. “It’s driven by the need for manufacturing jobs in the US, but also by the use of advanced technologies, which are changing the nature of manufacturing and cutting the cost of production.”
If technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things and additive manufacturing help US manufacturers produce goods at costs similar to those offered by low-wage countries, Grieves said, “the transportation costs will make the difference, and they will want to manufacture near the customer.”
Delivering the skills that tomorrow’s manufacturers need, however, requires institutions to overcome the educational establishment’s traditional silos, Grieves said.
“In the US, the top-tier universities have been turning out engineers without much understanding of manufacturing,” Grieves said. “There’s a whole range of material that we’re not teaching students and that students have to learn once they get out into industry. Universities have to recognize that it’s not enough to teach engineers the engineering aspect of product creation; they also have to teach manufacturing so that those products can go from virtual design to economical and efficient physical production.”
“IT’S CRITICAL THAT WE CREATE A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT THAT REPLICATES THE MANUFACTURING ENVIRONMENT SO STUDENTS CAN CONNECT IT TO THE WORKPLACE.”VICE CHANCELLOR, KLE TECHNOLOGICAL UNIVERSITY
Grieves names the Florida Institute of Technology, Purdue University and the Georgia Institute of Technology as leading US institutions in this area, but notes that even they need a stronger interdisciplinary approach.
“Most US universities have colleges of engineering, not colleges of engineering and manufacturing,” Grieves said. “It’s no longer a case of engineering a product and then throwing it over the wall to manufacturing. A holistic approach to engineering and manufacturing is needed to create a product. So there needs to be a major strategic shift among educators toward that holistic approach in order to catch up with where industry is rapidly moving.”
Manufacturing accounted for just 16% of India’s gross domestic product in 2014, according to the World Bank. That same year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the “Make in India” initiative to attract foreign investors and transform India into a global manufacturing hub.
“To compete at the global level, we need engineers with multidisciplinary talent, and this requires a fresh approach to engineering education,” said Ashok Shettar, vice chancellor of KLE Technological University in India. “We are teaching many of the technologies that are relevant in the factory of the future, such as big data, cloud, analytics, embedded systems, robotics and automation, but we have not been teaching them in an integrated way.
“The factory of the future is also a collaborative space, where many processes can be happening at different physical locations and cross-cultural issues can arise. It’s critical that we create a learning environment that replicates the manufacturing environment so students can contextualize their learning and connect it to the workplace.”
KLE Tech’s engineering curriculum therefore emphasizes experiential learning. First-year courses include social innovation, which develops design thinking relevant to social needs, and engineering exploration, which combines many engineering disciplines to encourage broad production thinking. Subsequent courses encourage a multidisciplinary approach to product realization in the university’s 6,000-square-foot (557.4-square-meter) learning factory.
“Students work in interdisciplinary teams that mix mechanical engineering students with those from electrical engineering, so they gain an understanding of how teams from different disciplines work toward a common goal,” Shettar said.
To teach these skills, KLE Tech’s faculty members needed to expand their own experiences beyond their specialist disciplines.
“We identified gaps in our current practice and collaborated with the manufacturing industry to address those gaps and improve our ability to teach the courses,” Shettar said. “Since we expect our students to work in interdisciplinary teams, we needed to do it ourselves first – so we went through that experience before we started teaching it.”
For educators around the world, developing the skills needed for the factory of the future brings the challenge of reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the new manufacturing environment. It’s a challenge that is ushering in increased collaboration among academic disciplines and between education and industry, demonstrating a crucial commitment to new ways of thinking about teaching, as well as manufacturing.
“We need to demonstrate a strong intention to collaborate,” Shettar said, “and to develop a culture of collaboration between industry and academia.”Back to top
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