Cummins and Purdue University pilot workforce-development program

Jan. 5, 2021
Indiana Digital Crossroads addresses regional workforce challenges in technology-based fields.

Cummins Inc. and Purdue University are partnering on a pilot workforce-development program, Indiana Digital Crossroads, as an initiative to address regional workforce challenges in technology-based fields. 

The program—initially piloted in early 2020—allows Purdue to employ some of its top data science students as a consulting team; the students work under contract on data-intensive projects for companies that then benefit from the students’ fresh, creative approaches.

“The shared goal is to capture the attention of regional students from our excellent educational institutions and introduce them to the growing number of innovative technology opportunities here in Indiana,” said Sherry Aaholm, vice president and CIO at Cummins.

Aaholm, both in her capacity as CIO and with her broader local business visibility through other community engagements, recognized a need that Purdue could fill both for Cummins and other companies. “Cummins is among the many companies in the region looking for ways to fortify the available talent pool,” she said. “And I challenged the Purdue team to help develop an innovative way to address the problem.”  

The talent deficit forces companies like Cummins to outsource some critical work, but this program can enable that work to be directed to qualified local students to learn while doing real work during the academic year.

“We interpreted Sherry’s challenge as a problem that required design thinking,” said E. Daniel Hirleman, professor of mechanical engineering and Purdue’s chief corporate and global partnerships officer, “and the solution we developed together is the Indiana Digital Crossroads.” 

The overarching Indiana Digital Crossroads framework provides the mentoring, interdisciplinary setting, data science expertise and the scale of student numbers that can sustain a large number of these partnerships. Indiana Digital Crossroads is designed to eventually involve multiple universities and companies, making the program a digital crossroads for the region.

For its role in meeting the challenges, Purdue University developed a campus-wide Integrative Data Science Initiative, which aims to foster (at large scale), a digitally savvy talent pipeline across all disciplines.

“In our pilot project, we gave the student consulting team a tough problem related to an important strategic initiative, that of bringing together big data in a digital twin framework for asset management,” said David L. Leach, executive director, analytics and artificial intelligence at Cummins. “We expect, and are already receiving, a real return on our investment."

Students worked toward a goal of predicting the end of life for turbochargers in Cummins engines, based on engine sensor data, fleet service data, engine performance characteristics, and many other engine attributes.

“My team and I have been overwhelmed by the responsiveness of our pilot program with Purdue. This partnership at the intersection of data science and advanced manufacturing was just a pilot for the Indiana Digital Crossroads, but it is the future of manufacturing,” Aaholm said. “If Purdue can expand this program from its original vision, so that multiple universities and multiple companies can have similar partnerships, it could be a game changer for our quest to make Indiana the hub for an AI and data analytics ecosystem that is second to none.”

Cummins plans to continue and expand the work it is doing through Digital Crossroads in 2021, and Purdue intends to expand the program with other companies.