Digital manufacturing's digital classroom

Those who embrace digital technologies will be writing history.

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Early this year, UI Labs launched an educational series focused on harnessing data to make American factories more efficient and competitive. (Lofty goal, huh?) The massive open online course (MOOC) curriculum includes 40 hours of instruction, assessments, peer interactions and a final project. Developed for both students and workers, the series introduces a broad range of digital manufacturing and design technologies, and demonstrates how they can be used throughout a product’s lifecycle. 

We chatted with three stakeholders to learn more. Below you will find perspective from

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Tom McDermott, UI Labs & DMDII

Thomas McDermott, executive director of Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) and chief program officer of UI LABS; Timothy Leyh, executive director of the University at Buffalo Center for Industrial Effectiveness; and Bob Fornasiero, partner and machinist at Hudson Design & Manufacturing.

Smart Industry: Describe your role with this initiative.

McDermott: The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), a UI LABS collaboration, brings together partners from universities and industry, along with government and startups, to address manufacturing challenges and make the U.S. more competitive using digital-manufacturing technology. In an effort to introduce digital-manufacturing concepts to a wide group of people, we forged a partnership with Coursera to co-develop a competitive application. We began soliciting proposals in December 2015 to develop the country’s first online course series in digital manufacturing and design. Dozens of manufacturing executives, educators, and non-profit leaders participated in a workshop to develop proposals for the series.

Tim high res September 2016

Timothy Leyh, University at Buffalo Center for Industrial Effectiveness

Leyh: Our center led the University at Buffalo’s response to answering DMDII’s call for the creation of these online courses. As an outreach center of UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences that assists industry and places emphasis on educating the workforce, we have established a footprint in the manufacturing community and also leverage strong relationships within the university to regularly tap faculty and staff expertise. Our role with this initiative includes strategically forming the project team from our repertoire of resources, conceiving an academia-industry approach to developing courses, and managing content development and production.   

Smart Industry: Why launch this initiative now?

McDermott: Investing in theU.S. manufacturing workforce has never been a more pressing imperative. DMDII and Coursera’s mutual goal is to provide citizens with high-quality, low-cost, and industry-relevant content to help them thrive in the new manufacturing environment; we also want to create a talent pipeline that contributes to innovation, productivity and competition. Online learning presents opportunities for on-the-job training and enables motivated workers to access content on their schedules. Many of our partners already use the availability of course content to address anything from technical areas to organization-management needs.

Leyh: The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) forecasts that by 2020, there will be more than 600,000 U.S. job openings in the advanced-manufacturing sector. Over the past 20 to 30 years, manufacturing jobs in our country have been lost to offshoring, coupled with a generation that has been steered away from pursuing a career in the industry. As more nationwide efforts are pumped into creating a manufacturing resurgence, and with the reshoring that has begun, the need to educate the current and future workforce about the opportunities in advanced manufacturing (Industry 4.0) using an online-learning platform is paramount.

Smart Industry: Who do you envision getting the most benefit out of this program?

McDermott: We hope the “Digital Manufacturing & Design Technology” course specialization—Coursera’s term for a series of related courses designed to help learners master a specific topic—exposes a wide range of learners to the concepts of digital manufacturing. The program is designed to be accessed anywhere—all that’s needed is an internet connection. We believe the courses will be useful to someone just hearing about digital manufacturing, as well as to people who have built their careers working with machines on factory floors. The goal of the specialization is to provide a tool for learners to market their new knowledge. Coursera has made considerable progress working with corporate and business partners throughout the world to recognize the accomplishment of completing a specialization.

Leyh: We have structured this program to appeal to three distinct populations: high school graduates exploring career interests, factory workers who want to understand how their jobs may change with the advent of new technologies, and small- to medium-sized business owners looking to adopt digital manufacturing and design (DM&D) technologies.

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